I'm Back! (Again!)

Oh, Livejournal, how I have missed thee!

But given all the apologies for absenteeism I've been reading on my friends' pages, it seems I'm not the only one who's been taking an inadvertent blogging break. The silver lining, I suppose, is that we must all be busy working. Right? Working?

In addition to maintaining production of the newspaper I edit, juggling freelance assignments (I've written three leveled readers in the past three months. So. Much. Fun. Serious fun!), and keeping my MG humorous fantasy revision toddling along, I've been immersing myself in all things Twitter. Now, faced with the egregious freedom of a blog post, I feel like I did in one of my college English classes when the professor assigned us a five-page paper--after a full term of nothing longer than a single page. What do you do with all that space, with all those words?

Not to worry. I'm not planning to fill up the entire internet. (Not today, anyway. Kinda tired.)

I will just say that, yes, a little late to the party, I'm at last reading The Mysterious Benedict Society as I take a break from all the ARCs I picked up at ALA--and enjoying it so much. Very Lemony Snicket (though the narrator is much less snarky. Maybe not snarky at all, even). And it reminds me so much of one of my childhood faves, The Silver Crown by Robert C. O'Brien. I remember my sixth-grade self was shocked when the protagonist's home (and family) was blown up early in the book, but was soon so caught up by the adventure that I just pushed the strangeness of it all aside and thoroughly enjoyed it. In an unexpected way, Mysterious Benedict also reminds me of The Penderwicks, which I didn't want to end. (Didn't want the sequel to end, either! Why is Jeanne Birdsall only planning five volumes?)

The kids are all decent people, all struggling to overcome the challenges facing them. None of them are sappy, sickly sweet--but still, there's an innocence in the world of these books.

I remember at one SCBWI conference, an editor was speaking about YA books, and pushing the envelope--saying, basically, there are no taboos anymore, and that writers need to write accordingly. One attendee asked simply, "What about The Penderwicks?" pointing out the success of that book, despite its innocence.

There's room for all on the bookshelf--no?

No More Freebies!

What's not to love about free books--right?? (Speaking of which--SO excited about ALA Annual Conference!! ARCs, here I come!)

Well, here's the thing. My fabulous library (which has a delightful used bookstore RIGHT INSIDE IT. If it had a coffee bar, I'd never go home) hosts some shelves outside where there are books for (practically) free. (I think a dime per book is requested--there's a tiny cash-box attached to the wall for your practically-free-book-buying convenience.)

(How am I doing with parentheses so far? Next post, I'll demonstrate the Great Value of--wait for it--em dashes.)

So the last time I returned books to the library, before it had actually opened, my only option was to browse the Practically Free Shelves for reading material. (The library was closed, you see. Its little bookstore, too.)

And here's what I now realize. Those books are practically free for a reason.

So now I've read the first two books in an early-80s "YA" "mystery" series. (And I use those quotation marks charitably. Because who among us knows a teenager who actually uses the word "perhaps" in everyday conversation???) Also a zany 70s book by a very, very well-known MG writer. (This book is NOT one of her well-known offerings. For good reason.) A WWII coming-of-age story where the Jewish family actually escapes before anything really awful happens. (It would have been an interesting read if not for the chronic--and random--flashbacks.) And a super-cheese MG mystery where the nice aunt dun it and the mean aunt didn't realize she was really that mean.

So forget those gift-bearing Greeks. What I really need to watch out for is book-gifting geeks. No more practically free books for me. I swear. I shall avoid the near occasion of the practically free shelves. And I refuse to feel guilty for placing my practically free purchases back on those shelves for some other desperate schmuck to pick up. So there.

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Every Ending is a New Beginning

Easy enough to say--not always so easy to keep at the forefront of your mind.

I remember when my editors have written me "Dear Journalist" notes--"I'm sorry to tell you that the June issue will be our last. It's been great working with you," blah blah blah--that hit me like a kick in the gut. Problem with me is, news like that always hits me that hard, even if it's not a pub I've written for in the past! So I was sorry to read the editor's note in the latest issue of The Los Angeles Times Magazine. (On the other hand.... I feel like this isn't the first time the magazine has "folded." Maybe it will be back in a new incarnation a few months hence. Stay tuned!)

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Fifty Shades of Spoofs

When I worked at B. Dalton Bookseller (hail, thou glorious fallen monument to literacy!), one of the first things I learned about was the Anonymous books. Partly that was because Fiction (excluding mysteries, Westerns, romance, sci fi and fantasy, which had their own individual sections) was organized by author's surname, and Anonymous is way up at the head of the alphabet. And partly it was because the management assumed most new hires would be unfamiliar with this fictional subgenre: Victorian(ish) erotica.

After a while, I learned to spot Anonymous buyers when they walked into the store. They were always older men. Some of them were Anonymous regulars, and some were just regulars who only occasionally browsed the Anonymouses. Many of them were older men who strode into the store with their wives at their sides; as the husbands made a beeline for the Fiction wall, the wives continued with determination down the main aisle to the Romance section.

Good times.

Given my Anonymous experience, I've been interested in all the kerfuffle about Fifty Shades of Grey. (Mostly, I've been wondering if it relies as heavily on spanking as most Anonymous books seem to.) The big sales numbers. The moonlighting author. The spoofs. Especially the spoofs!

So for all you Anonymous fans out there, here's a spoof featuring teen queen Selena Gomez--far from Waverly Place, still pretty darn PG, and just completely hilarious. ("What was that contraption? He was introducing me to a whole new world... and I was ready." "Helloo?? You need caulk, or sealant?")

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Friday Funny

Writing is more in demand than ever... and sometimes I think that good writing is less appreciated than ever. And at the heart of comedy is pain, right? No wonder this cartoon made me laugh so hard.

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What's Your Favorite "Team" Anagram? *

When I first started editing The Publication--eight years and two editors after I started writing for it--I noticed that people were a little... hesitant around me. (These would be the other high-level professionals at the organization that The Publication represents--high-level professionals whose work is often featured in The Publication.)

As they figured out that I was super easy to work with (read: inexperienced. Or, alternatively, easy to push around), they got a lot less hesitant. And some of them got a lot more demanding. Particularly one guy I called Media Relations Boy. (Also The Wolfman, for his hair's overwhelming resemblance to Lon Chaney Jr.'s.) It didn't take me long to understand why my predecessor had stood a little apart from his colleagues at the organization--and why he'd been particularly distant from The Wolfman. And once the media relations team started making motions to take over The Publication, I realized how much damage my easygoingness could have done.

Luckily, Media Relations Boy moved on. The new guy comes across as a pleasant, professional person whose ambition is not likely to mow me over--he's focused on his job, not on taking over mine. So that made this morning's phone call all the more hyperventilation-inducing: he's been asked to collect representative pages of the last several issues of The Publication... and even he doesn't know why. 

We'll have a new boss coming in sometime during the next year or two--the timeline is vague, but the changeover is definite. Lots of us at the organization are worried about what that new leadership will mean to our future with the organization (new boss, new staff, right?). Last time the media relations team attempted a takeover, I was sure it was to create greater job security. Today's phone call smacks of the same. 

Hey--this is not the Hunger Games, people. You don't have to club me over the head in order to be a winner. 

* "Tame" and "mate" are sounding pretty good... but I'm feeling more like "meat." Dead meat. Gak.

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The Odds in Whose Favor?

I am so far removed from the reality show bandwagon that I can't even hear the accordions--but I've been tiptoeing closer to the less vile offerings (even though one of the pros on "Dancing with the Stars" makes me think he needs a misogyny intervention). The past few months I've been checking out "The Voice," and have been surprised how not mindless it is.

It gets me thinking about what makes a "good" voice, training vs. experience, quality vs. potential for success, and just how much evil one little X chromosome can inject into what is otherwise a pretty darn feel-good reality show. (Hey--maybe I need a misogyny intervention!)

Last week, I realized I was having a rough night's sleep after watching "The Voice," dreaming about struggling through rounds of competition, stressing about my life's dream being shattered on national television. I took a few days off, but now am back for the sure-to-be-devastating finals. This isn't "DWTS," after all, where already-famous people (even if vaguely, or distantly, famous) want to jump-start their careers outside the ballroom; these are people who are driven to sing, who want to make singing their careers since it's already their lives, people who wonder if there will be any song if they're not the winner on the show.

I'm glad there isn't a reality show that pits writers against each other. (On the other hand... how dull would that be for the viewer? It would turn into some monster critique group, and the writers continuing to the next round would probably pass along referrals to agents and editors to those who had been booted off. Heck--if we said, "May the odds be ever in your favor," we'd actually mean it!So not a recipe for a successful reality show!)

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Too Much--Or Not Enough?

Change--blech! There's almost always too much or not enough. Right now it's looking like there's not enough--directly on the heels of Way Too Much--and that means I'm starting to get that itch. That make-it-happen-make-it-happen-NOW itch. And THAT means I'm darting into corners and down corridors and generally spreading myself too thin as I attempt to explore everything at once: revising one MG novel, brainstorming a chapter book, querying educational publishers, job-hunting, start-up planning...

And THAT means that I'm starting to get that dry, dusty feeling, as though I've spent all my energy spinning wheels instead of spinning yarns.

So it was super refreshing to attend the "Catholic Oscars" yesterday. Even though it was a freelance gig (and, as usual in a dimly lit hotel ballroom, my camera refuse to do anything even remotely close to excellent), I found myself listening to the honorees' speeches in more of a conference-going mode--feeling inspired by their enthusiasm, and soothed by the presence of so many creative people who know firsthand what the struggle is all about.

Screenwriter Brian Oppenheimer confessed that he dreaded presenting an award to his close friend and business partner, Barbara Gangi, because--quite naturally--he's a writer; if he were the kind of person who enjoyed public speaking, he would have gone into a different line of work. He also noted that he used to believe he could "sit in [his] cubbyhole, writing [his] scripts, and people would come knocking on [his] door saying, 'Hey, got any scripts for sale?'" (Big laugh for that one.) Gangi is the one who assured him he was quite, quite wrong, he quipped.

It was nice to put the brakes on those spinning wheels for the day--and get back to my desk feeling ready to write.

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Refreshed, Revitalized, Ready to Revise

After I've been out in the garden on a stupid-sweltering SoCal Saturday, gasping behind the lawn mower or uncreaking my back after weeding too long, a cold drink and a muscle-soothing shower are so refreshing that I almost (almost) want to head back outside.

That's exactly how I feel about my writing, with a Schmooze and a conference behind me, another Schmooze to look forward to tonight, ALA looming on the horizon, and revisions cutting deep and healing smoothly in my MG fantasy manuscript.

At the aforementioned conference, a comment from one of the speakers jogged something loose in my brain, exposing a dilly of an idea that I can't believe hadn't occurred to me before. And so I've been on a major chapter book jag, reading some excellent books, some very high quality series books, and some not-so-great books--all of them educational in their own ways.

Naturally (since my elevator pitch describes my book as Junie B. Jones meets the Brothers Grimm in a coming-of-age fractured fairy tale), I had to spend some quality time with Junie B. If you're struggling with voice, I suggest you do the same. I wouldn't dare to suggest that this kid is fictional--she's waaaaaaaay too real for that! And her real-life friend, Barbara Park, is probably a certifiable genius. Case in point: in one of Junie's adventures, she explains that she can't eat because her stomach feels "squeezy." I admired the adjective then--you've had that exact feeling, haven't you?--but when I went through the book again to study it (rather than just enjoy reading it), it occurred to me--not only is "squeezy" perfect on its own account... but it's also exactly how a kindergartner like Junie B. might pronounce "queasy." Genius.

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A Very Gorey Saturday

The best way to start a weekend of brainstorming, revision, still more brainstorming, and further revision?

An Edward Gorey reference on the comics page:

When I was a kid, the reason I originally decided to read some of the books that became my all-time favorites (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Haunted Looking Glass, The House with a Clock in its Walls) was the Edward Gorey illustrations.

Off to sharpen my red pencil!

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