Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Cycle" is the new "trilogy"

What's with these trilogies that all of a sudden sprout fourth books? I'd like to believe that it's all out of fondness for Douglas Adams' five-book "increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy," but I doubt it.

Not to toot our own horn, but Terie Garrison's DragonSpawn Cycle was always a four-book cycle. We're happy to welcome Christopher to the club, though. Plenty of room.

Monday, October 29, 2007


The anonymous poster who precipitated an interesting conversation on Varian Johnson's blog has revealed himself and fleshed-out his opinions. You should check it out.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The best overview of the query and acquisitions process ever

(Warning, I'm feeling a little sarcastic and cynical. But hey, it's Friday, so take it as intended . . .)

I've seen the Godfather many times, but until this day it never occured to me what an excellent illustration its memorable opening scene is of the query and acquisitions process in book publishing.

Bonasera's "query" to Don Vito is actually really great (query letter writers take note of its deceptive simplicity and brevity--how could anyone say no?), but alas his timing is off (as it so often is) because Don Vito's on his way to a meeting. In the end, however, the arrangement works out, though not for the project as proposed, and Bonasera has no idea what Don Vito has in store for him later.

Next time I do a talk on submissions, I'm using this. (And yes, I always have a cat on my lap when I'm talking to authors.)

Join in the discussion . . .

Varian Johnson has the makings of an interesting discussion over at his blog. An anonymous commenter wrote this in response to a blurb from Ellen Wittlinger:

"Without a bit of preaching..." - Why is it whenever anyone dares to take an unpopular position on a controversial moral topic in our society, their ideas are described as didactic, dogmatic, preachy, or any other apparently negative label? With all the destructive sexual activities and misinformation plaguing young adults in America, it would be immensely helpful if those with the power of the pen would use their gift to steer some attitudes in the right direction rather than be content with "keeping it real".
I think this is an important (and well worn) question for YA authors to be thinking about--though I suspect I want them to answer it much differently than Anonymous does. I'd love to see more people's comments on this comment.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The People Have Spoken! Congratulations Simone Elkeles!

And they love Simone Elkeles! The ALA announced the winners of the Teen Top Ten voting. They are:

1. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
2. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
3. How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles
4. Maximum Ride: School’s Out – Forever by James Patterson
5. Firegirl by Tony Abbott
6. All Hallows Eve (13 Stories)by Vivian Vande Velde
7. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
8. River Secrets by Shannon Hale
9. Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe
10. Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks

Congratulations to Simone Elkeles and thank you to the ALA for creating on such a fabulous program!

Note: Interesting bit of symmetry in how I heard about this. I checked my email while I was eating breakfast this morning at 6:00 and I got a blog comment alert email:

By: Laurie Stolarz
Email: ********

Congratulations to Simone and to Flux - I just saw the top ten list!!!
Laurie's Blue is for Nightmares was the first teen book I ever worked on (and only a little bit) and I believe she was also the first from Llewellyn to get nominated for Teen Top Ten. So, it's rather appropriate that she was the bearer of good news.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More praise for Varian Johnson's My Life as a Rhombus

Last week, I was greeted by praise from Ellen Wittlinger for Varian's novel, and now this just in from author, teacher, advocate, and blogger extraordinaire Cynthia Leitich Smith:

"My Life as a Rhombus is a sensitive and powerful friendship story about two very different girls who connect over the toughest decision either of them will ever make. In his YA debut, author Varian Johnson offers a realistic, heartfelt, and thoughtful take on unplanned teen pregnancy from the perspective of a young math whiz trying to reconcile her future and past."
Couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks, Cynthia!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Another dispatch from Robin Brande's Kidlitosphere Conference

Flux debutant Brian Mandabach was also at Robin Brande's Chicago shindig and he just sent this in-depth report. (We instantly forgive its lateness, since he's been busy attending to the launch of his excellent novel and passing on his craft to high school students . . . in the very high school he attended as a teen. Good luck, Brian. I'd be in the fetal postiion.)

Ten days ago, I'd just returned from the first annual Kidlitosphere conference, and the flat lands and thick skies of Chicagoland were lingering in my mind. But now, as happens in the week after a trip, memories have faded to fragments, and photo albums can only vaguely call the memories to mind.

The last thing I saw as I exited the O'Hare Radisson was podcaster and photographer Mark Blevis wearing a very beautiful OR NOT t-shirt, which he'd won (along with a copy of my book) after dinner the night before. Author PJ Haarsma and Faith Hochhalter had orchestrated a fabulous raffle, the proceeds to benefit Haarsma's efforts to give books to school libraries, the prizes being bundles of signed books. Faith introduced each book with an extended rave, comparing them to other fantasy books while insisting that each was an original work of genius. Until she got to my book and t-shirt, which I had (with permission) slipped in at the last minute because I'd been waiting for the right opportunity to give them away. "And these," she said, holding OR NOT and its t-shirt dubiously aloft, " . . . these go together, I guess."

If you can imagine how I felt then, you can picture me during a few of Kidlitosphere's other awkward moments: before dinner drinks, mingling during breaks—those unstructured times when it became clear that I was an afterthought, an outsider, a new kid trying to figure out what the deal was and how he fit into it.

But hostess Robin Brande, with her gift for the gracious, invited me up to be the first to draw a name to give away my prize, and Mark seemed very happy to get my book t-shirt. So I was happy.

And the dinner itself was wonderful, not because of the usual chicken and pasta buffet, but because I was surrounded by fabulous librarians. I sat with Camille Powell, whose bookmoot blog I identified as a Tolkien reference, and Susan Kusel, whose wizardwireless is all about the boy wizard. Susan got passionate about the epilogue of THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, and I was fascinated to find my question as to why she liked it answered in an oral essay punctuated by her referring to her iPod (containing all seven Rowling novels) and more than one admission that she (Susan) was a nerd. I told her to stop calling herself names and to keep talking. She's amazing.

So were all these librarians. I've never been surrounded by so many people who know so much about books and love them so much and in such an unassuming way. When I asked Gregory Pincus what he was reading, he said "A lot of picture books." So we talked picture books, with Maureen Kearney "preaching the gospel of IT'S NOT A BOX." As she did with fellow FLUX author Barbara Shoup, Maureen made me feel right at home. I only wish she was my librarian—if she was, my kid would never miss another story time at the local branch.

Now back to the educational stuff, or the formal sessions, anyway: The afternoon of the conference consisted of three blogging presentations:

1. How to be a B-list Blogger, by Pam Coughlin, (motherreader) which had me wistful about getting more traffic, but finally convinced that the B-list is way beyond somebody trying to teach and write fiction AND be a half decent daddy. I love the blogosphere—but I'm part time here at best.

2. Ann Levy on how to write better reviews, including short, medium, and long form. The long review she had us read— by Ursula K. Leguin from The Guardian—got some fantastic discussion going. So great that, before we really got the lesson on the long form, time was up. In addition to her instruction on the art of the book review, Ann urged us all to raise the level of discourse on our blogs, bringing the kidlitosphere out of the insular dimension of cyberspace and into the realm of public intellectualism so jealously guarded by the bona fide critics in print. A tall order. Most kidlit bloggers seem more interested in talking about books they love with other book lovers than they are in joining some sort of Academy. They may have more impact in the public discourse than the Roger Hornbook does anyway, but raising the standard to which they hold themselves can't hurt. Or so it seems to me.

3. Liz Burns on the ethics of blogging: Does it make reviewers less objective when publishers give them lots of books along with really good chocolate chip cookies? Should one write "bad reviews" or abandon books one doesn't like after a couple of chapters so that one can tie into a book one does like? How does one blog about books with integrity? Liz is fun and earnest both—but I'm afraid to criticize her and equally afraid to suck up to her. ;-) The former might cause her to avoid reviewing my book for one reason, the latter for another reason. I shouldn't have even mentioned her name. But if I didn't, it would have seemed like a snub. It's a Catch 22, but the consensus seemed to be that the only sure way for an author to piss these people off is to harass them: "As I asked in my last 3 emails and my previous 12 comments on your insightful and erudite blog, have you read my book yet? WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO REVIEW IT?!?!? At best, that sort of behavior will land your book on the never read stack. At worst, it might inspire someone who wouldn't have given you a review at all to give you thrashing.

Opinions on all of this stuff were wide and well spoken. Many wouldn't dream of doing the last thing, for example. Some stay away from writing negative reviews of authors who aren't getting much press, for fear that their opinion could really hurt the person's career. Others think that a little criticism of a book that is widely and, according to their estimation, undeservedly celebrated is a duty.

Overall, it was great to hear what everybody had to say. And if I felt somehow on the sidelines, it was because I'm new to all of this. I was a little intimidated by some of the bigger bloggers and writers, but I think that's because of my own insecurity, not because they were standoffish. I'm sort of scared of Liz, and Betsy Bird, and Barry Lyga*. But that's my problem.

I was more comfortable walking into a room full of seniors in creative writing class—two days before—at Barrington High School, than I was mingling with kidlitosphere people at the Radisson Hotel. But that's another story.

I also hadn't participated in the pre-conference online discussions—because I've been too busy teaching and getting ready for the release of my novel. And finally, I was late and missed the morning session because I was lingering over a pot of room service coffee with my wife in our hotel in the Loop. When checkout time isn't until noon, and you're on your first kid-free vacation in a decade, it's tough to rush out the door. But that's another story too, and I've written far too much as it its.

I'm kind of slow to open up in a group of new people, many of whom are on intimate terms despite how seldom they meet in the flesh. But I certainly enjoyed being around so many book lovers, who were very welcoming in spite of my own reticence. As for the founder of the feast, Robin Brande, kudos are very much in order.

I hear next year it's Portland. Which means my wife and I will need an extra day just for Powell's.

* Andrew's note: Scared of Barry Lyga!? I've met Barry twice (once at a somewhat scary SCBWI conference), and he's gotta be one of the least scary, most friendly people I've ever encountered. Barry, if you read this, please write Mandabach and tell him you're not scary.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

From the Community: The Good and the Kinda Odd

Early advance reading copies have been circulating for a few weeks now for Varian Johnson's My Life as a Rhombus and last night I got an email from one of those readers, reknowned author Ellen Wittlinger, most recently author of Parrotfish (which is near the top of my to-be-read pile). Ms. Wittlinger writes:

"Without a bit of preaching, Varian Johnson gives us a story of two teenage girls who are faced with the consequences of unplanned pregnancies. Teens will love the emotional peaks and valleys of the tale and be gratified by the conclusion."
Needless to say, we're all very pleased for Varian. This is hopefully only the beginning of well deserved recognition from his peers.

On the other hand, in the kinda-odd column from the community, I came across some very advance criticism of a novel we'll likely publish in early 2009 by absurdly talented debut novelist Emily Wing Smith. It's called Sunday's Child at the moment and whatever it's called when it's a book, it will be stunning and completely original.

When all the negotiations were done, I posted a note about the deal on Publishers Marketplace, as I always do when there's no agent to do it. For those who are unfamiliar, Publishers Marketplace hosts a newsletter with, among other things, a sort of bulletin board for deals between publishers and authors and between publishing houses for rights (and if you want to get the free version--and you should--click here). It's a good place to get news and to see who is buying what from whom, and, if you're in the market for sub rights, to see what's available. All the postings contain a very short descriptions of the book's contents in a from that's probably unique to Publishers Marketplace. You get "one phrase" to describe the book. I generally try to work in interesting details, but I don't spend hours composing a phrase that captures the whole book--if that's even possible. My entry for Emily's book read:

"Emily Wing Smith’s [debut novel,] SUNDAY’S CHILD, in six voices about a Utah Mormon community reeling after the death of a popular teen boy who was probably gay, to Andrew Karre at Flux, in a nice deal, for publication in spring 2009 (World)."
It's not poetry, but it's good enough for what it's for. What I didn't anticipate (but should have, since it's happened before) was that this would serve as a kind of advance read for the earliest critics. The popular Dear Author blog posted "Epic story sales that may or may not put me to sleep," wherein, among other thoughts on a number of deal posts, the author suggests that six voices might be "too many."

I said this has happened before, and it has--to the very first deal I ever did, in fact (and it was much more troubling then). Two years ago, a blogger posted this about my notice for the sale of Christine Kole MacLean's How It's Done, which was posted under its working title, "Pulling Out." In his post, the blogger wrote:

"That 'swept off her feet' is pretty strange coming in between 'high school senior from a fundamentalist Christian home' and 'college professor.' Explain to me how this isn’t a novel about something close to statutory rape? The age difference and power imbalance are compounded by the perception that the young woman has a sheltered background."
At the time, it took all my will power not to post a long comment explaining all the ways he had it wrong (though it occurs to me that it may seem like I'm doing something like that now--hope not). Now, though, I'm inclined to be intrigued and even a little encouraged by this. Yes, I think it's a little unfair for someone to write something negative about a book based on something the editor wrote about it in haste , but I just spent a weekend at an SCBWI conference saying over and over that publishing is not fair, so I'll take my own advice. More than that, though, I think it's at least interesting and maybe even encouraging that readers, writers, and critics are so interested in what's coming. It betrays a certain kind of enthusiasm and hope for the future of books, and I think, practically speaking, some conversation is preferable to no conversation. (I just wish they'd promise to follow through and blog about the book when it comes out. )

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The polls are open and voting has begun for the ALA's Teen Top Teen. Flux's own Simone Elkeles is nominated for How to Ruin a Summer Vacation. So, as they say in Simone's home town, vote early and vote often.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Teenage Paparazzi

The New York Times has an article about two LA teenagers who are working as paparazzi (seriously). Nothing will ever shock me again.

(Also, I was unfamiliar with Kim Kardashian, who's mentioned in the article, so I Googled her. If you do nothing else, you must go to her "official" web site and read her bio. Suffice it to say, the very rich don't proofread.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

From the Kidlitosphere Conference

Blogging novice and award-winning author Barbara Shoup attended Robin Brande's 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference last weekend in Chicago. She was good enough to send this report:

The alarm rang at 5 a.m. last Saturday. Oh man, what I really wanted to do was turn it off, go back to sleep, get up when I felt like and hang out with my husband all day. But I was determined to learn about blogging, so I dragged myself out of bed, showered, dressed and hit the road for Robin Brande’s first annual Kidlitosphere in Chicago. I had a great book on tape and there was zero traffic between Indianapolis and the Windy City (what nut gets up at that time on a Saturday?) So except for an inadvertent segue through O’Hare airport, it was an okay trip.

Confession: I’m so out of it that when I got to Kidlitosphere that morning, I didn’t even really know what blogging was. The thought of blogging myself was pretty much incomprehensible. Where would I start? Kidlitosphere gave me a crash course in all that—and more. Plus, who wouldn’t want to be part of such a smart, friendly, funny community of people who are crazy about books?

Thank God, I was almost immediately adopted by Maureen Kearney—children’s librarian by day, blogger (Confessions of a Bibliovore) by every other spare minute. She answered all my (dumb) questions and those I’d never have thought to ask. Plus, she kindly included me in her Steak & Shake lunch group—along with Betsy Bird, the voice behind what seemed like everyone’s favorite blog, Fuse 8; Lisa Chellman, another blogging librarian—who made my day when she asked, “Didn’t you write Wish You Were Here*?; and the very hilarious author/blogger Ellen Klages. The conversation—partly involving how to create cool (small, safe) explosions with soda (diet, not regular, because doesn’t leave a sticky residue on the walls) was as good as (maybe better than) my cheeseburger, fries and gargantuan chocolate shake—which means something, coming from me. I love Steak & Shake!

Every single session was packed with information and practical advice—from how to set up a blog, how to find your voice, how to get arcs (advanced review copies, for those who were as clueless as I was before Saturday) and how to podcast. And it was fun to watch the bloggers meeting each other—most for the first time. “You’re just like your voice,” they kept saying.

My favorite session was “Blogging for Authors,” where about thirty people crammed cozily (standing room only) in a conference room and shared tips about...everything. Talking about the ethics or just plain decentness of blogging, Robin Brande cut to the chase, sharing this simple philosophy: Don’t be a dick. (Are we allowed to say that in a blog?) We’re all in this together. What’s good for one of us is good for everyone who loves books.

Amen to that! And to the whole idea of Kidlitosphere. Thanks, Robin! It was a really great day.

* Yes, she did, obviously. And we'll be re-releasing it this May (the Children's Book Council voted it the book they'd most like to see back in print; so we obliged). And Barbara's new novel (and recipient of the Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship) Everything You Want will release this April.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Varian Johnson on the Art of the Chart

Bad Mutha Fluxa Varian Johnson has an article in the most recent Writer's Digest on incorporating doodles, charts, and other non-narrative and non-verbal elements to a novel without alienating the reader--something he does to great effect in his upcoming novel My Life as a Rhombus. Sounds like a useful article. Check it out.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Kudos for The Tree Shepherd's Daughter

Gillian Summer's The Tree Shepherd's Daughter has earned Top Choice honors on the review site Flamingnet.com. Congratulations to Gillian Summers!

From the review of a teen reader:

"I can't wait until the next book comes out and I want to read it ASAP! This is a must-read for all of the book lovers like me out there. I recommend this fabulous novel to everyone but mainly to those who are intrigued by fantasy."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Say no to "vapid innocuous euphemism"

It's almost the end of banned books week, and I haven't posted anything about it. Must fix that . . .

Several landmark court cases have paved the way for artists to be able to explore the full range of verbal expression without fear of being prosecuted for indecency or obscenity. One of the most important was a ruling that Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" was not, in fact "obscene" or "indecent" under the law, a ruling which was handed down in California 50 years ago yesterday.

The presiding judge in the case wrote in his opinion: “Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemism?” Indeed.

So, all of you who support David Levithan and Rachel Cohn's right to explore every conceivable usage of the word "fuck" or Ellen Wittlinger's right to write frankly about oral sex or Brian Mandabach's right to explore just how screwed up American schools can be, say thank you to Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Howl's original publisher. They fought the good fight.

You can listen to Howl, read by Allen Ginsberg, and a whole host of interviews and feature on the story here. You'll also discover how much the ruling has been eroded in practice, especially on broadcast media, in the past decades--a very disturbing development.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Have to share . . .

Next summer, we're going to release a book called Band Geek Love by Josie Bloss. It's fun stuff, naturally (says the former band nerd), but I'm reading a draft right now, and something she wrote strikes me as an excellent specimen of its type (a type I've seen a lot lately): the parental college meltdown. In this useful YA set piece, a character shows something that might be mistaken for indifference or even just lack of enthusiasm toward the prospect of college. At this point, even ordinarily rational parents lose their minds and visions of Helen Hunt jumping out of a window in "Angel Dusted" flash through their heads*. Josie captures it very nicely.

I sullenly looked up at them. “I said, who cares. You guys have made college such a big deal. And I’m sick of talking about it.”

“Ellie, what’s gotten into you?” Mom asked. “You’ve been talking about college practically since you started high school.”

“We thought you were excited about it,” continued Dad. “Is something wrong?”

“Are you depressed?” asked Mom, fearfully.

“Are you doing okay in your classes?” Dad asked.

"Oh, God, you aren’t addicted to crystal meth, are you?” Mom practically shrieked. "Did you know they make that with poison?”

Ah yes, zero to crystal meth in four seconds flat. Nice.

*Unfortunately, I couldn't find a YouTube of Helen Hunt in "Angel Dusted"--you'll have to ask Hank Green--but I did find her smoking weed on "The Facts of Life."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

New books!

October is here and so we've passed the official release dates of a couple new books, including a first for Flux.

Christine Kole MacLean's YA debut How It's Done is now available in paperback. Christine's gorgeous novel was a BookSense Pick, as well as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.

Jon Ripslinger's latest novel, Last Kiss, is a dark mystery and it's on shelves now, too.

The prolific and multitalented Nina Wright has a sequel to her Homefree out now. It's called Sensitive, and aside from being a great, ghostly story, it's got one of my favorite covers.

Finally, everyone should check out Brian Mandabach's debut novel Or Not. Not only is it stunning piece or writing and imagination with one of the most maddening and endearing heroines I've ever read, but Brian is an author very close to the world of his main character. He's an eighth grade teach and wrote his novel with extensive feedback from his students and former students. Check out his MySpace page for their no-holds-barred comments.

There's a novel or three in here

The New York Times has a fascinating article on female high school athletes and concussions. I don't care if you're not interested in books with sports. There are much bigger issues here, too.

This was a particularly interesting passage:

Kate Pellin, a standout basketball player in Suffield, Conn., has sustained at least four concussions, three times being knocked unconscious while diving for balls or being slammed to the hardwood by other players. “I get offended when people say girls don’t play sports as hard as boys,” she said.
What an interesting state of affairs thirty-five years after Title IX.

Also interesting to note that it's the number-one forwarded article in NYTimes Sports at the moment (and this on a day when when they've got a piece about A-Rod and the playoffs).