Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween from Flux!

Halloween is kind of a big deal around these parts. Every department picks a theme and then dresses up accordingly. The acquisitions theme this year was "Famous Felines."

Bonus points if you know who I came as. (Hint: The glasses should be a giveaway.)
Happy Scary Day, y'all!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nosfera 2: Return of the Killer Doubt

Yesterday, I went through my first rite of passage as a new acquiring editor.

I sent out my first rejection letters. They were fairly low trauma* (meaning they went to people who’d submitted picture book or middle grade proposals, neither of which Flux publishes). I’m much more apprehensive about the ones I know I’ll eventually be sending to people writing what we DO publish. Even the most professional writers who know that rejection is part of the game don’t want to hear, “Sorry, not right for us.” Those writers, though, can quickly move on. For people just emerging on to the writing scene (Flux publishes many first time authors), rejection can be harder.

One of the things about rejection is that it can lead to self-doubt which, anyone who’s been writing for awhile will tell you, is a writer’s worst enemy. More than any bad review or scathing critic, self-doubt cripples, inhibits, and decimates. Of course, that’s if you let it. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Often, writers are more than willing to give themselves that consent.

There’s a wonderful musical that just closed on Broadway called [title of show]. (Yes, that’s the title of the show.) It’s a wonderful metafiction about two guys trying to write an original musical. Ultimately, the show stands as a tribute to the creative process and what creative people go through in their varied attempts to do their thang. My favorite song in the show is a number called, “Die, Vampire, Die!” It’s about dealing with doubt, that which is inflicted by others and that which comes from within. A vampire is defined as “any person or thought or feeling that stands between you and your creative self expression.” You can hear the song here.** (Warning: Contains adult content. Despite how unbelievably awesome this song is, I wouldn’t crank up the speakers and play this at work. Unless you wait tables part time at the International House of Curse Words. And even if you did, I doubt you’d have access to a computer so you--... I digress.)

“Die, Vampire, Die!” is my own personal creative anthem. It reminds me that someone who doesn’t like my stuff is just one person and I won’t let the vampires in my head make me think otherwise. The quality I admire most in the writers whose work crosses my desk is their fearlessness. They're not afraid to take risks. Sometimes the risks pay off, sometimes... not so much. BUT they took the risk. They got out the crucifixes and garlic garlands and managed to fend off what I can only imagine was USDA Grade A Prime Vampire Attacks. And that will always get my attention and respect.

I suppose I need a point to this post. OK, try this: a rejection letter is not a permission slip giving you carte blanche to doubt yourself. Maybe you do need another draft to tighten things up. OK, saddle up and do it. You're in this to write, right? Maybe you sent your stuff to the wrong agent/publisher. Move on. You want to find someone as passionate about your stuff as you are. You NEED that. If someone says 'no,' it's a good thing. You don't want your work in the hands of someone who can't get fully behind it. It might take a while to find that 'yes,' (Editorial Ass has an excellent post about that here), but when that happens, you'll be glad you took a stake to those vampires.

*="Oh, sure, Brian. It's low trauma for you. You're not the one getting rejected." But that's my point. It should be low trauma for the person getting rejected as well, to hear that I can't even consider their work because we don't do those kind of books. That's like getting worked up because you took your picture book into McDonald's and asked them to publish it. And then the guy behind the counter said, "We actually don't publish books. Can I get you a combo meal?" These people should bonk themselves playfully on the head and say, "Silly me. Next time, I'll do a little more research and ferret out what kinds of books a publisher does before I send a mass mailing of my manuscript at my own expense."

**=And if you have any interest in theatre at all, I highly recommend the cast recording for [title of show]. There are many other wonderful numbers pertaining to the aspirations of creative people.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bunnies! Bunnies! It must be bunnies!*

This via Leila over at Bookshelves of Doom: a mother in Oregon is challenging a high school that keeps The Book of Bunny Suicides on their shelves. The mother has checked the book out of the school, is refusing to return it, and threatening to burn it.

Says Taffy Anderson, the mother: “It is a comic book, but that’s not funny. Not at all,” Anderson said. “I don’t care if your kid is 16, 17, 18. It’s wrong.” (Emphasis mine.)

This is what I ultimately find disturbing about any attempt to ban books: an overdeveloped need to protect everyone else. She's not protecting her kid; she's protecting your kid. Isn't that kind? I respect and defend a parent's right to say to their own offspring, "No, Johnny, I don't want you reading that." But when that parent decides that nobody's child should read that... that's where there's a problem.

I'm reminded of an incident three years ago where the head of a private school in Texas had the guts to return a three million dollar donation when the previously announced gift suddenly came with strings attached: the donor wanted Anne Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" removed from the library. The YA community rallied and many authors donated signed copies of their books to the school as a show of support. That incident started ASIF (Authors Support Intellectual Freedom), an online community of primarily YA authors speaking out against censorship.

The upside to the Bunny Suicides saga? (Because, you know, there's always an upside.) The school has been inundated with offers to replace the book (as well as other challenged books). Oddly enough, I really hope her 13-year-old son who attends that school is 100% behind his mom's decision to challenge the book. If not, he could be in for some major hazing. (Although the fact that HE'S the one who checked it out of the library in the first place suggests to me he might not be on board with Mom's crusade.)

*=Bonus points if you sang along with the title of the post.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Mr. O'Reilly: If the good Lord had wanted us to worry, he would have given us something to worry about.

Basil: He has! My wife!

Sorry, I can't hear "Cybil" without thinking of everyone's favorite fishwife, Sybil Fawlty.

But today, I'm talking about the Cybils, the children's and young adult blogger's literary award, and the fact that NINE Flux titles have been nominated for the Cybil awards in the Young Adult and Fantasy/Sci Fi category. The Flux nominees are:

Fantasy/Sci Fi
Dead Girl Walking by Linda Singleton
Lament:The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater

Young Adult
Jump the Cracks by Stacy DeKeyser
Swimming with the Sharks by Debbie Reed Fischer
My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones
Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape) by Carrie Jones
Everything You Want by Barbara Shoup
The Shape of Water by Anne Spollen

The long list for each category is very impressive and I know the judges will have their work cut out for them. It's great to see our authors in such fine company.

And now the countless hours of reading begin for many eager bloggers across the country/world. Maybe the Cybils could find a sponsor in Visine...

Monday, October 13, 2008

LAMENT is seeing stars!

Congratulations to Maggie Stiefvater whose debut novel, LAMENT: THE FAERIE QUEEN'S DECEPTION, just got a starred review in Publishers Weekly. A quote from the review:

"YA readers searching for faerie stories will be happy to find this debut novel, an accomplished take on well-loved themes.... Stiefvater brings to her story several layers of romance, a knowledge of Irish music and a talent for
plot twists. She is also unafraid of taking plot developments to their logical outcomes, even when they mar the characters' happiness. Vibrant and potent, her
writing will hook genre fans. "

The "she is unafraid" line is one of my favorites. As you can imagine, having just started in this position, my every waking hour is spent reading every single Flux book that I either didn't work on as a publicist or that we've acquired for future publication. With every book and manuscript I read, I'm gaining familiarity with the scope of our authors and when I started reading Maggie, the word "fearless" was one of the first to pop into my brain. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Write What You...? No.

Over on Nathan Bransford's blog,* Nathan asks readers to share their traumas by listing the worst writing advice they were ever given. There are definitely some doozies. But the thing about writing advice is it's often hard to see when you're getting the bad stuff. (When are you getting the bad stuff? When it's treated as an absolute.) What I've discovered is that sometimes good advice is confused for bad, largely because it gets lost in translation.

"Write what you know."

One of the oldest, if not THE oldest, bits of sage advice around. Some people hear this and they nod, closing their eyes to indicate deep understanding. Others rebel and say, "If we only wrote what we knew, we wouldn't have books like LORD OF THE RINGS or books that deal with experiences no human has had."

This is a good example of what is ultimately a very good bit of advice that, without follow through (or in the hands of the wrong instructor) can go very, very wrong. It's advice that should come with a warning label: You must be this introspective to use this mantra. It's advice that some writers take to one extreme (limiting their repetoire to only writing stories with an autobiographical protagonist who does exceedingly boring things) or the other (the aforementioned "But we wouldn't have LOTR!"). Every day across the world, writing teachers unleash these four words once every six minutes** but it's the excellent writing teachers who lend it a bit of context and explain HOW to use the advice.

Here's the secret: it's not literal. "Write what you know" does not mean limit yourself to the mundane things you encounter on a day to day basis. It's a plea to funnel your experiences, your thoughts, and all the little lessons you've accumulated in life into the worlds and characters you create to lend them that ring of familiarity. Readers love to be swept away in imagination but there's always that bit that pleads, "Give me something I can relate to." No, no one I know has ever been to wizarding school. That's not what J. K. Rowling knew either (so she made it up...shocking, I know). BUT, as Harry grew older and struggled with his growing attraction to girls and the awkwardness of often being branded an outsider, well, Jo just didn't pull that out of a pointed hat. She wrote what she knew about and used it to give her characters depths and feelings. Write what you know isn't about plot, it's about character and soul and those bizarre little quirks that motivate us, for good or bad. It's about articulating your curiosity, your heartbreak, and that which gives you fever.

It's a fact: books infused with our own personal truths are better. (Prove me wrong. I dare ya.)The best plot in the world won't be sustained by cardboard characters spouting cliches. Depth comes from complexities, contradictions, and drive that can only be conveyed with self-examination and a willingness to bare the results. This holds true whether your story is a heart-wrenching, teen angst-ridden drama or a light, funny beach read. And if possible, I think this holds even more true for the fiction we label YA. As Barbara Shoup once told me: "Teens have amazing crap detectors." If you're not writing what you know in a YA book, you'll get called on it.
Every time.

The best writing advice I ever got? It's not so much advice but it's a quote I keep near my computer that I look to whenever I get stuck.

"You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment."
--Annie Dillard

To me, it says everything I hope to get across when I write and what I hope to see when I read the works of others. "Show me what astonishes/surprises/confuses you." If your characters are astonished, they have to deal with that. And THAT'S where the heart of your story comes from.

Look closely at what Dillard's saying. YOUR astonishment. It has nothing to do with wizarding schools and spaceships and yet everything to do with it. Because, in the end, writing what you don't know should always be informed by what you do know.

*=Do you read Nathan's blog? You should.

**=Totally made-up stat.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ahoy, Mateys! Sneak peeks of DUST OF 100 DOGS begin to arrive!

Although A.S. King's debut novel, THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, won't be released until February, it's already enjoying some fab pre-pub buzz (that's industry talk for "it's getting a nice amount of attention that one hopes will translate into interest in the book upon its release").

First, it got some great endorsements from a cadre of amazingYA authors: Lisa McMann, Heather Brewer, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, and Carrie Jones.

Then there was the shout out from Alison Morris on her PW blog, Shelf Talker, where she admired the cover (which was then admired by others).

Now, the inimitable Leila over at Bookshelves of Doom has chimed in with her thoughts. To quote Leila: "The Dust of 100 Dogs is entertaining, multi-layered, smart and definitely gripping...."

But my favorite part of Leila's review is where she questions whether or not this is YA. Anyone who pays attention to industry trades or even articles in the New York Times knows that this can be a dicey topic. Where does the Y in YA begin and end? The good news is that EVERYONE has an opinion on the matter, which leads to some great chatter on the matter. (My opinion? I adhere to Flux's credo--YA is a point of view, not a reading level.)

Again, to quote Leila: "The subject matter doesn't pertain to my YA or not YA question -- there's no topic here that I haven't found in other YA books -- it's the tone and the perspective(s). Then again, the genre is constantly evolving and expanding. Maybe in the future the line between YA and adult will get more and more blurred. I'd like that. "

I'd like that too.

Friday, October 3, 2008

In today's news: Nothing

Actually, there is something. Robin Friedman's Nothing is getting some great coverage! You may have seen the CBS Early Show spot on "Man-orexia." Now check out this from the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Or this from the Warren (NJ) Reporter.

Congrats, Robin!

Band Book Week

Sorry I'm a little late coming to the party. In the hullaballoo of taking over the new position, I'd almost missed all the wonderful press about Band Book Week. It's so great that the blogging community has come together to celebrate and note this often neglected subgenre of YA lit.

Flux is proud to offer two stellar entries in this field: BAND GEEK LOVE by Josie Bloss which was a summer reading favorite for band campers all across the country. (Fret not, Bloss fans, a sequel IS on the way...) And we've also got the recently released BUSTED: CONFESSIONS OF AN ACCIDENTAL PLAYER by debut novelist Antony John which features band geek Kevin Mopsely who stands to rocket to A-list popularity status at school...provided he can supply the senior class guys with an accurate catalog of all the senior girls' measurements.

I hope when you settle in to pay deference to Band Book Week, you'll consider picking up one of these...

....Wait, what?...

...Two Ns? Really? Man, homophones suck...

Never mind.