Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kudos confirmed for Spollen and Shoup

Librarian and blogger Lisa Chellman has a clever take on blog reviewing. She writes: 'These days, I choose the vast majority of my books based on blog recommendations—i.e., books that have probably been reviewed multiple times on various widely read blogs. I feel like I'd just be saying, "Ditto, ditto, ditto."' So she's posting some of her recent reading and her favorites reviews for them, including the Shape of Water and Everything You Want.

Everything You Want"[Everything You Want] about each character searching out what they truly want in spite of—rather than because of—the new money in their lives. For Emma, a college freshman who's never dated (her closest experience hither-to resulted in her getting punched in the face), it's about groping her way into the future and, she hopes, finding love along the way—universal themes in spite of extraordinary circumstances. Also, did I mention that much of the dialogue is downright hilarious?"

Shape of Water
"I wasn't sure what to expect. And even if I'd been told what to expect, I don't think it would have prepared me for what I found. To say that this book is about grief and moving beyond grief isn't sufficient. It took me by surprise with its strangeness and beauty and glimpses of humor amid the darkness."


The Fictionistas blog is interviewing all the finalist for the Romance Writers of America's YA RITA award. It's a diverse group of authors and books, so do check it out, and Flux's own Simone Elkeles is one of the five, so check on Friday for her interview.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Great notices for Nothing

NothingRobin Friedman's Nothing probably managed to do something no other book has done before. She got reviewed in the Huffington Post and Guys Lit Wire on the same day. The HuffPo article is by journalist and mental health advocate Tom Davis, who suffered from bulimia as a young man and is Robin's inspiration for the story. Davis writes:

"When I first told Robin about my history, I could see her connecting in a way that displayed a combination of humility, empathy and sympathy -- a rare trait for anybody in a society that's too busy to communicate in ways that are more complex than a one-sentence e-mail.

"Robin, in fact, is on a short list of people in my life who, I believe, can connect with people on an emotionally deep level. She has a sincerity -- as well as a raw and honest, but affecting laugh -- that can put the most unrefined person at ease."

I've had a chance to talk to Tom briefly and his commitment to this issue is impressive. It's not often that I get to interact with a book, its author, and her inspiration all at once, so this has been a particularly exciting book for me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bloggy kudos for Debbie Reed Fischer

image The blog Reading Keeps Me Sane recently reviewed an advance copy of Debbie Fischer's Swimming with the Sharks.

Overall the book is brilliant. The ending was scintillating. I loved the book in the end. It was just hard to finish reading it, but I'm really happy I did. Debbie Reed Fischer is an excellent writing. She's going to be a huge Young Adult Fiction writer in the future. I can't wait to read her first book, Braless in Wonderland which came out this past April.

Debbie is a member of the Class of 2K8 author's group. I contributed a little backstory on Debbie's path to publication for their blog. I think they're posting it this week.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A couple of excellent notices for Girl, Hero

Librarian Nan Hoekstra has a nice review on her blog, and PW featured Carrie's third novel in an article called "Letter-Laced Fiction."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Attention All Bloggers

I'm composing this using a free piece of Microsoft software called Windows Live Writer. It's a standalone editor that can post to most major blog platforms (I use Blogger) and I'm pretty sure it's awesome (not as awesome Henry, built still pretty awesome). Here's just a few bells and whistles: It supports drag and drop pictures and allows you to resize them intelligently. You can customize the border width. And, when you grab an image that's a link, like from Amazon or your dear publisher's web site, it grabs2009 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market) the link, too (click the CWIM cover image). All of this with no coding. The editor detects your blog's layout, so the layout you see as you compose is what you get--you can even preview it in full context. It's got a tool for tables, video, maps, and people are writing plugins for it, so it's expanding all the time. Basically, it seems like Word, but for blogging. If you're running Windows and you blog, then I'm pretty sure this will save you time. Get it free.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Writing and categories

The Margo Rabb piece in the New York times has engendered a lot of interesting discussion, but I'm a little uncomfortable with the degree to which writers are allowing the book business's categories to dictate their conception of a book's worth. Obviously, I believe in young adult fiction as a category in a certain extent. I believe it's a useful way to corral certain books in a bookstore or library, and I believe that, as a genre, it provides a useful rough set of boundaries. And that's all, really. Artistic achievement and the writer's craft are completely separate from this.

I quipped in an email to a colleague that "the book industry screws artists in lots of ways, but I’m beginning to think the greatest crime it’s perpetrated is forcing writers to accept its convenient marketing categories as meaningful to the value of their work."

Actually, I think it takes two to perpetrate this particular travesty. Novelists have to take the categories seriously. I will acknowledge that it would require a naive view of human nature to expect authors to be completely uninterested in how their publishers and readers categorize their work, but I think it takes a similarly naive view of the history of the novel itself to get overly involved in the fine points of contemporary commercial characterization of their work. A novelist's contemporaries are often extraordinarily bad judges of what a novel is. From its birth, the novel--especially in English--was seen as a trivial, second class form. Most novel writing was popular, disposable entertainment. Even into the 20th century, the book business proved wildly inconsistent in its initial characterization of books, from their content to their permanence, sometimes to the author's financial advantage.

Many of my authors know that Nabokov is my go-to example for a lot of things, and this is no exception. The first American editors to read Lolita in manuscript were sure they and the author would go to jail if the book were published. Their attitudes only softened slightly after the book was released by a French publisher with a reputation for erotica (a certain court ruling also helped).

An article in the Boston Globe by Harvard Prof. Leland de la Durantaye from three years ago sums it up nicely:
'Lolita appeared in two pale green volumes from the Paris-based Olympia Press in September 1955. Few readers took notice of the foreign publication until December, when Graham Greene, writing in the London Sunday Times, included the book by the virtually unknown Nabokov in his list of the three best he had read that year. John Gordon, a conservative Scottish editor, examined the unexpected entry in Graham's list and shortly thereafter denounced it in the Sunday Express as "the filthiest book I have ever read," adding that it was "sheer unrestrained pornography." Sales soared, interest increased, and when, after much fearful hesitation on the part of publishers, the work was published in an American edition in 1958, it spent six months as No. 1 on the bestseller charts.'

So, which was more important to the book's success? It's legitimization by Greene or its vilification by Gordon. Or both? I tend to think the controversy--is it art, is it porn?--was the important factor. Nabokov, who outwardly scorned concerning himself with an audience any larger than his one ideal reader, seems to have been reasonably and pragmatically content to tolerate the mischaracterization and occasional abuse (see movie tie-in cover) of his book in the popular imagination, as long as a core of readers (eventually a very, very large core) understood its genius, and as long as he was comfortably compensated for that popular success (which he was, Lolita the book and movie that followed allowed him to quit teaching and live comfortably in Montreux, Switzerland for the rest of his life).

I can't guarantee anyone caught up in the is-it-YA,is-it-adult? controversies a comfortable existence in a Swiss hotel, but I'm having a hard time seeing how it's a bad thing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Margo Rabb on YA in the Grey Lady

Margo Rabb's Cures for Heartbreak was one of the books that got me through torturous jury duty a year ago. Check out her essay in the Times on YA. Good stuff. (Thanks A.S. King for sending the link.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

"So clearly a teenager"

No, this isn't a foreign policy blog, but I do think this story on All Things Considered from a couple days ago about interrogation at Guantanamo is more than a little interesting as an example of cultural perception of "teenagerness." The reporter, Tom Gjelten, makes a really interesting observation at about 2:30 into the clip:
"To me this is so clearly a teenager being interrogated. I mean, how many times have you spoken to your own teenage kids this way..."
It's not so clearly a "child," but a teenager. He's recognizing something universal. For me, one of the strongest indicators of YA in fiction is what Gjelten is picking up on: an unbearable tension created by a young person in an adult situation (in this case a situation that no adult would handle well, either). This is why I think of YA as a genre.

(Interesting to note that they got lots of letters about that comment. The ones they read vigorously disagreed.)

A little plug

Alice Pope just announced at her blog that the 2009 CWIM (Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Marketplace)
is now available. Aside from it being a lovely shade of lavender, it contains articles by people like author Cynthia Leitich Smith and editor Allyn Johnston, and there are interviews with Sherman Alexie, Cecil Castelluci, and Scotwesterfled, among others. And I wrote an article, too, wherein I manage to discuss the medieval world view, John Cougar Mellencamp, Nirvana, Peter Cameron, and Lorrie Moore. I did mention this was a plug, right?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wish You Were Here at Chasing Ray

Wish You Were Here

Quoth Colleen:

"I often write about how it is hard to review teen books as an adult - you just don't think like a teenager anymore so sometimes adult reviewers can get frustrated by how teenagers act. Barbara Shoup's Wish You Were Here is so pitch perfect though, that as the child of divorced parents whose mother remarried when I was a teen....well let me just say this woman knows of what she writes. She nails so much of the frustration of that situation; it is eerie. Flux has reissued the book (it came out in May) and I'm so happy with it - expect more in my August column."

I'm so happy to see reviews like this for Wish You Were Here and for Marilyn Sachs' The Fat Girl, which we also rereleased a while ago. There is a great deal of interesting YA by active authors languishing out of print. I firmly believe that teen readers aren't bothered by "contemporary" stories set a decade or two in the past.

Okay, this is new

LamentMaggie Stiefvater, author of the forthcoming Lament, is also a painter and a prolific blogger. So, she's combining these talents to create something she's calling Teaser Tuesday. And it apparently involves bears. Maybe she should explain.

I wracked my brains to think of ways to talk more about [Lament] in the upcoming weeks (okay, not really. Really I just drank some sweet tea and listened to some City Sleeps and decided I like to draw bears doing funny things), and I decided that what I want to do is feature a teaser from LAMENT every Tuesday from now until its release.

Yeah, that didn't help me much either, so maybe you should just go look.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Another good notice for Girl, Hero

Girl, Hero
Charlotte's Library has a great entry about Girl, Hero, in which she identifies a little-recognized benefit of Carrie's novels:

"That being said, here’s another reason why I am going to try to get my
boys to read the works of Carrie Jones. She writes the nicest high
school boys ever (in this book, it’s Paolo, who’s cool and sweet and
understanding), and I want my sons to be that nice too."

True, but why, if Carrie is capable of such great boys (and she is), is her one super-bad boy named Andrew?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Review Avalanche

Kirkus reviews for Girl, Hero and Robin Friedman's Nothing just showed up on the interwebs. Both very positive.
"Parker's negative body image and need for control will be familiar to teen readers, but the callous dismissal of his few attempts to discuss his worries says worlds about social expectations for teen boys."
Girl, Hero
In a quirky but deliberate voice both serious and funny, Lily navigates her complicated life by writing to John Wayne. ... [R]eaders will respond to the self-aware but vulnerable Lily as she grows over time into her own unique hero."

And then Midwest Book Review has a review of our paperback of Barbara Shoup's Wish You Were Here.

“WISH YOU WERE HERE is a deftly composed coming-of-age tale, sure to pleaseWish You Were Here young adult readers.”

A great endorsement for Lament

LamentMaggie Stiefvater's Lament is a couple months away, still, but early praise keeps coming in, this time from none other than Cynthia Leitich Smith, author most recently of Tantalize (which should be out in paper any minute) and keeper of the indispensable Cynsations blog.

"Chock-full of the fierce and the fey, Maggie Stiefvater's Lament is musical, magical, and practically radiating romance. A blood-fresh reinvention of old traditions, perfect for engaging sharp minds and poetic hearts." Tantalize Cover

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Kliatt on Wildewood and Band Geek Love

KLIATT has two excellent reviews for Flux books in its most recent issue: Band Geek Love's heroine, Ellie, is "refreshingly real and honest" (despite the fact that you often want to strangle her), and Into the Wildewood Into the Wildewoodis "a mixture of Clueless and The Two Towers that somehow melds them with style. Summers's book will attract new fantasy recruits and diehard fans."

Band Geek Love

A great review for Girl, Hero

Girl, Hero
The ALAN review has an awesome review of Carrie's novel. A highlight:

'Readers will find secret comfort in Liliana’s
so-absurd-it-must-be-true story, noticing specks of their own lives scattered here and there, specks they do not want anyone to know about, specks that make them who they are. Liliana’s story will empower
readers, reminding them of their ability to overcome anything, as long
as they first tip their hat and whisper “saddle up.”'

Couldn't agree more.

Heads Up

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Building for the Teenage

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series)In a previous life I worked at a company that published books about home improvement and design, and I was very interested in residential architectural stuff. I stumbled on to a book called A Pattern Language by an architect and Berkeley professor named Christopher Alexander and several collaborators. It's a fascinating book about the ways humans divide up the spaces they live in, from a planetary scale to a room scale. The "patterns" of the book are archetypal design challenges that the authors have identified and solutions to those challenges that the author propose. I think the book is fascinating to anyone who occupies space (and that would be everyone), but for the purposes of this blog, I think the two patterns that directly address teenage life are very interesting.

Pattern 84 is called Teenage Society. Here's the problem:
"Teenage is the time of passage between childhood and adulthood. In traditional societies, this passage is accompanied by rites which suit the psychological demands of the transition. But in modern society the 'high school' fails entirely to provide this passage."

And here's a taste of the solution:

"We believe that teenagers in a town, boys and girls from age 12 to 18, should be encouraged to form a miniature society, in which they are as differentiated, and as mutually responsible, as the adults in full scale society . . . . Therefore: Replace the 'high school' with an institution which is actually a model of adult society. . . ."

Here's the other teenage pattern, number 154 Teenager's Cottage:

"If a teenager's place in the home does not reflect his need for a measure of independence, he will be locked in conflict with his family."

There solution is what they call the "teenage cottage." The whole description of how they conceive the space is really interesting to me. They see space as a way to help a teenager redefine their connection to the family--still connected, but also independent. Here's the solution:

"To mark a child's coming of age, transform his place in the home into a kind of cottage that expresses in a physical way the beginnings of independence. Keep the cottage attached to the home, but make it a distinctly visible bulge, far away from the master bedroom, with a private entrance, perhaps its own roof."
The authors are confident of the archetypal nature of all the problems they identify, but they rate their solutions on a zero-to-three scale to measure how elemental they believe their solutions are--whether they believe there are solutions to the problem that don't incorporate elements of their solution (scoring a zero) or they believe no solution is possible without incorporating theirs (a three). Both of these score a zero. Interesting.

Their first pattern-solution pair seems like Lord of the Flies to me, but I find the second really interesting. I'm sure you could find dozens of examples of this in practice in YA novels and teen TV. (Anybody else thinking of that Beach Boys song, "In My Room"?)

Friday, July 4, 2008

This is a first . . .

Josie Bloss marked the release of her new novel in a way that's completely Band Geek Lovenovel (sorry) to me. Yep, she got a tattoo. This got me thinking, has anyone else done something interesting to personally commemorate a first novel?

When we were picking a logo for Flux a few years ago, I said it had to be cool enough for me to get it tattoed somewhere, but I only got as far as the Sharpie prototype.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Amen, Cory Doctorow

I haven't read Little Brother yet, but I will soon. If I needed any additional incentive, there's Cory's excellent column in Locus. He writes "There's a consequentiality to writing for young people that makes it immensely satisfying."

'Writing for young people is really exciting. As one YA writer told me,
"Adolescence is a series of brave, irreversible decisions." One day,
you're someone who's never told a lie of consequence; the next day you
have, and you can never go back. One day, you're someone who's never
done anything noble for a friend, the next day you have, and you can
never go back. Is it any wonder that young people experience a
camaraderie as intense as combat-buddies? Is it any wonder that the
parts of our brain that govern risk-assessment don't fully develop
until adulthood? Who would take such brave chances, such existential
risks, if she or he had a fully functional risk-assessment system?'


The only tiny criticism I have isn't even really a criticism. I would just add that in no way is his thesis limited to sci-fi--Doctorow's subgenre (yes, subgenre) of choice. What he says applies broadly to any kind of YA writing.

Josie Bloss at The StorySiren

Band Geek Love Josie Bloss' Band Geek Love is in stores now and Josie is blogging about her inspiration for the book over The Story Siren. Have a look. (Personally, I can affirm band-camp tunnel vision, although I was never farseeing or reflective enough to write any of it down. Though, I can say such was my love for band camp--Akers Hall at Michigan State in August, sigh!--that I actually went back as a counselor the summer after I graduated. Bizarre indeed.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

More. A.S. King

The always insightful A.S. King is blogging over at MysticLit. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wish you lived in Austin?

Cynthia Leitich Smith has a rundown of the conference she just hosted for kidlit authors at her home in Austin. Wow.

Flux authors Varian Johnson (below, standing) and Jo Whittemore were in attendance.