Wednesday, April 29, 2009

YA Ghettoland

It's amazing how condescending otherwise nice people can be if you tell them you are writing a book for teens. "Oh that's nice," they say. "And maybe someday you'll be able to move up and write for adults." Or even: "Why would you write that stuff?"

"Move up"?? "That stuff"?? I am not kidding. People have said this to me. I don't think they realized how silly they sounded. But somehow books for kids can't be as good as books for adults. Forget the fact that the most influential books I read in my life are the books I read before I hit age 18, including things like the Chronicles of Narnia, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the works of Judy Blume, and fantastic stuff like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Island of the Blue Dolphins. These are the books that made me love reading and allowed me to move on to Dickens, Austen, and Shakespeare.

Nowhere are you more likely to touch a nerve, bring comfort, entertain, or enlighten as you are with kids. Check out this story in the NYTimes about an author who got pushed into the YA category, was dissed by "adult" writers and ultimately realized the impact her book had on teens.

Apparently there was a bit of an outcry when some YA classified novels won some Science Fiction awards. Check out writer John Scalzi's post, where he disposes with that argument most effectively.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that kid's lit is ghetto-ized, even though it's one of the few areas in publishing resisting the recession and people love to pontificate how important it is that our children read. Kids don't vote. And they often don't pay for the books they read. Certain conservative politicians have resisted the US signing the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child, for crying out loud, saying they don't want some non-American organization telling them how to raise their child.

I send a big fat raspberry fart noise their way.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Keep Your Village Small

My latest girl/talent crush is Amanda Palmer, a singer/songwriter/artist extraordinaire who was one-half the Dresden Dolls and just put out an amazing solo album called "Who Killed Amanda Palmer." I can't get "Oasis" and "Leeds United" out of my head. (Warning: you may encounter darkest irony, wit, and insight if you watch these videos. "Who needs love when the sandwiches are wicked and they know you at the Mac store?")

Anyway, I follow her on Twitter and found this clip, which struck me right between the eyes. Probably because I have the stupid habit of taking on everyone's pain and worry about the people starving in North Korea and being raped in the Congo. Not to mention the occasionally self destructive activities of people you love. Ever feel like all the crazy horrible pain going on all over the world at once feels like it's pressing in on you? I mean, people are dying and being tortured, and animals are being starved, and kids are being sold, and on and on right this very minute.

How can we deal with this? I have to push that stuff aside when it starts to smother me like that or I'll go nuts. And I have to remember that I'm happy, and that it's good to be happy because happy people spread happiness around to others. As a writer, I think you must have imagination and empathy in order to get inside other people's heads so you can understand your characters. But go too far with that and it wears you down until there's nothing left of you. You're a shell filled with other people's pain. And what the hell good does that do anyone?

So I think Amanda's right. This is from the site Uncensored Interview.

Kind of ironic finding this via Twitter, a much bigger "village" than a few hundred people.

The Benefits of Failure and of Imagination

This is old stuff - JK Rowling gave the commencement address to a group of graduating students at Harvard a few years back. But it's worth revisiting as we keep moving forward in life. In a very moving speech, shown below in three parts, she tells how both failure and imagination have lead her to lead a rich life. The last part includes the two-minute standing ovation she received from her audience.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Synopsis = Hell

Writing a synopsis of your novel to entice agents or publishers is one of the tasks writers hate most. I know I'd much rather write an entire first draft of a book than write a five-page synopsis. Yuck! To help you along, I found this nifty entry in a blog that summarizes the process nicely.

My own thoughts: First, best to write it after the novel is done. Don't try it during your first draft, because things may change and you'll have to re-synopsize, which is evil.

Second, keep it shorter rather than longer. Short and snappy.

Third, reveal the ending. You're not trying to create suspense. The agent/publisher wants to know that you can plot things out successfully and satisfy your reader.

Fourth, I start just slogging through events A-Z. Then I go back and make it sing.

Fifth, touch on themes and characters, but mostly you're trying to tell what happens.

Sixth, reward a drink or some chocolate when you're done. You deserve it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

To counteract the icky feelings that came from yesterday's post, today I am posting a video clip that just brings joy to my heart. I'm a bit late to this party, apparently. It zoomed out into the internet world last week I think, but check out this clip from the Antwerp train station in Belgium. Seemingly spontaneous acts of creativity rule!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Women for Women

I'm still reeling with outrage after hearing that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has signed into a law that, for the Shia population of his country, legalizes marital rape.

I know that this is a blog about writing, but this sort of thing makes my blood boil. It makes me want to write screeds of invective, showering hatred on people like Zardari and the Taliban who burn down girls's schools and flog women for looking at a man.

But hate begets hate, doesn't it? There are better ways to deal. So I'm thinking how to write about injustice against women in a more constructive way, and I'm eyeballing this charity: Women for Women. You can donate money or sponsor a woman, who will correspond with you as your very few dollars change her life.

Even if you can't afford to donate or sponsor someone, if you're a writer, think how your writing skills, your storytelling, but affect how a reader thinks. If we illuminate injustices like this one, we get a step closer to eliminating them.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


This is how I feel going into a three-day weekend with not one but two Easter dinners ahead of me. The video below, found thanks to perusing Neil Gaiman's website and up on Fabulist, helps express my percolating enthusiasm. It's by singer/songwriter/performer Jason Webley.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bouncy Blog Post

Nuture your creativity today. Imagine strange things. Bounce one weird idea off another. Like this:

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Beatles - Remastered

Okay, this has nothing to do with writing, but I cannot hold it in. At last AT LAST they have announced that the Beatles albums will be remastered and released on September 9!

Deep breath. I am, what you might call, a Beatles fan. In fact, the technical term might be Beatles nutball insane lunatic. And I've been waiting since the Beatles first came out on cd in 1987 to get a decent sounding recording of their albums. Like many early cd releases, the sound quality of these was crappy. Thoughout the years, other artists have had their cds remastered - the Beach Boys, heck, even later artists like Prince and U2 did it for their early releases. If you're a Beatles geek like me, you can get the detail in the NY Times article here.

In celebration, herewith my favorite early tribute to the Beatles, by way of Sesame Street:

Monday, April 06, 2009

From Typewriter to Book

Okay, so I've already failed at Blog Every Day April because I enjoyed my weekend and barely went online and certainly didn't blog. I'm not particularly heartbroken about this, since real life trumps blogging, but will endeavor to make this Blog Nearly Every Day April to keep in the spirit of things.

Here's an easy post. The digital marketing team at publisher McMillan USA created this very funny instructional video to educate you on how a book goes from something in the writer's head to international best seller. Check it out.

Friday, April 03, 2009

For Poetry Month - ED

Poem 1354
by Emily Dickinson

The Heart is the Capital of the Mind --
The Mind is a single State --
The Heart and the Mind together make
A single Continent --

One -- is the Population --
Numerous enough --
This ecstatic Nation
Seek -- it is Yourself.

BEDA, Day 3

I'm all distracted and busy and can't focus on making a coherent blog entry. I just want to laugh and cry and shake and sing. Hey look, I'm doing all four at once!

Wow, look how everyone's running away. Bye!

But today is day 3 of Blog Every Day in April (BEDA) so I had to put something down, right?

For the first time in a forever I fee like maybe, just maybe, I know what I'm doing. This is rare phenomenon in writers and thus deserves thorough documentation.


Like, my plot is flowing, my ideas make sense, I feel like I understand my character. I've done this before, and I can do it again. AND, I'm not the only one who thinks so.

(And I don't mean that my parents think I'm great. They do, God love them, but that's not what I'm talking about here. People unrelated to me in any way think I know what I'm doing. So it just might be true. On a side note, parents who think you are great are the best thing in life and if you have/had that, then you WIN.)

Off now to crank out a few more pages before my class deadline, then whooshing off to a big party tonight on a flower-decked patio overlooking the lights of Hollywood. (Ooh, how glamorous! There will even be fudgie oatmeal bars at this party, thanks to my friend Brian, so you know it's gonna be great. Oh, and cupcakes. And well, maybe some alcohol.)

Have a good Friday night!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Writing is Hard

It's day number two of Blog Every Day April! Once this blog is done I'll be two for two! Go, me!

So they tell you that writing is hard, that life as a writer is a hard life, blah blah blah. And you go, yeah, sure. I get it. What's the big deal? I write something out of my genius brain, people love it, it gets published and makes a lot of money. You'll see this attitude in folks everywhere. You know, the ones who don't write.

I can't tell you how often people have said something like, "Hey! I've got a great idea for a book/TV show/movie! I'll tell it to you and you can write it and we'll make lots of money!"

Uh, no.

"No really! It's the most fantastic-est idea ever! All you have to do is write it!"

Um, no. Thanks. But no.

"Okay, well, who in the industry can I sell this idea to? Just point the way and I'll go sell it and be rich, rich I tell you!"

It doesn't work like that. Get a clue.

Ideas are easy, people. Ideas are a dime a dozen. If writing them down is so damn easy, then go take your brilliant idea and write it and make your own million dollars. Leave me out of it.

Truth is - it's the writing that's hard. People can look at your book/script/poem/whatever and say - why don't you make your main character do X instead of Y? Add a lesbian scene. Add texture, add depth, add puppies and kittens and rainbows. They say this gaily, as if they know how amazing their ideas are and how grateful you are to hear them. Then they sail away, dusting off their hands in satisfaction. Problem solved!

Well, no. There's still this pesky thing called writing that has to happen. Writing is more than just jotting down ideas. It's more than characters, plot, texture, scenary, puppies, and kittens. It involves staring at a blank page, knowing that out of all the words in the English language, you have to pick the exact right words to convey all this depth, all this tension, all these rainbows and unicorns and dancing elves. You not only have to have the idea, you have to have the bricks, the mortar, and the know how to use them. You are architect, contractor, and home owner all in one. You have to entertain, enlighten, amuse. There's pacing, plotting, syntax, vocabulary, metaphor, theme and which breed of puppy to consider. The possibilities are infinite, and you have to pinpoint the perfect needle in the midst of that Milky Way sized haystack.

So writing is hard. After you're done writing, you then have to find someone who likes it enough to pay you for it. And that's just as hard as the writing. It's not for the faint-hearted. It's not for the egotistical. You will get beat down and discouraged. You will work long hours alone with no one to tell you how brilliant you are. You will be rejected, over and over again. You will scramble to find hours in the day to write, then when you do sit down, your mind will be blank. The muse will not come.

If you have to write anyway, do it. The world needs people of determination and character who can face these problems down and keep moving forward. But remember, it's no picnic. It's not even a dinner party. It's hard. Now get to work.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Favorite Poem

In honor of Poetry month, I post here what is probably my favorite poem. There are many others that come close, but I always come back to Fern Hill by the late great Dylan Thomas.


Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Blog Every Day April

YA author Maureen Johnson has declared this month to be Blog Every Day April (BEDA - on Twitter search #BEDA). So in addition to it being Poetry Month, it's apparently blogging month.

Any other writing demands you got, folks???

I'm in the last week of my class, trying to churn out pages, and now I'm supposed to blog every day and write a poem every day too? Can you, ya know, spread this shit out a little for me?

Yet lo, see how I have blogged today, April 1? Perhaps I shall be able to do this BEDA thing.

Perhaps not. No promises.

In the spirit of all this, here's a stab at a poem for today.

Running down Hollywood Boulevard at sunset

Plane contrail a white arrow in dusty blue sky
backlit palms
Elvis and Marilyn arm in arm
three musicians, pierced, blue hair, use the crosswalk
carrying a guitar, a trumpet, and a bass.
A woman tends white roses in the Wattles gardens
while rats rustle in drifts of leaves
beneath the avocado trees.

Breath comes hard, I limp
past an open case of beer on the sidewalk
and stop. Inside, bottles beer.
A few feet away a dog owner
has neglected to pick up after an elephant dog.

No one but me
and the old Russian ladies
leaning on each other down the block.

Sweat trickles down my back. A sign
on the telephone pole reads only:
Young Man in need of Living Situation.
All the phone numbers have been torn off.

I feel the beer.
It's cold.
But I run on.