KidLitCon 2011, Part IV

Tears, Sweat, and True Blood: DIY Marketing in a Post-Twilight World by Holly Cupala  and Shiraz Cupala. As with the Teaming Up presentation, the Cupalas presentation was both about the particular (what Cupala has done to promote her own novels, Tell Me a Secret and the upcoming Don’t Breathe a Word) and the universal (marketing in general, for both book bloggers and authors). I also liked that the Cupalas were matter of fact, talking about, well, the facts. Like most books get budgeted for less than $5,000 for promotion.  Or that part of the reason for Twilight‘s success was Meyer’s online engagement with her fans.

Holly spoke about the things she did to promote her first book, and had a handout of Seventy-Two DIY Things You Can Do To Market Your Book. I love how her approach was pretty much, it’s your book, so you can do this. Things she did included blog tours, trailers, sample chapters sent to bookstores, swag, and an audiobook. Yes, Holly and Shiraz produced their own professional-level audiobook with a professional narrator, Jenna Lamia.

Shiraz discussed, well, the practical things, such as the “The 4 Ps” that I’m sure would get nods from a marketing audience but, for the most part, got blank looks (at least from me): Product, Price, Place, Promotion; sometimes now also called the 4 Cs: Consumer, Cost, Convenience, Communication. He spoke about why people buy books, what impacts the direct decision to buy a book, the loss-leader approach to series pricing (i.e., what some may be familiar with from Amanda Hocking’s pricing the first in a series at less than the sequels). One thing that was said that I think needs to be bolded: only 12 % of teens buy books online. (So, personally speaking, as people talk about the brave new world of shiny ebooks and ereaders, remember, not every reader has access to the Internet or access to a credit card that makes such direct purchasing possible.) Also covered: the difference between above the line advertising, which is what consumers think of as advertising, as below the line things which consumers don’t think of as advertising. Shiraz spoke about word of mouth promotion, the type of authentic conversation about a book that a publisher cannot generate. (I’ll insert to add that this is why the FTC is concerned about how things that are paid for are indeed marked as advertising, so that the reader knows the difference between what is a paid promotion and what is authentic conversation.)

Holly spoke about how their approach to her second book, Don’t Breathe a Word, will be different from that of Tell Me a Secret, based on what worked last time, based on creating the need “spike” of sales, and, also, their own time and availability. For example, this time around they will again do videos because that garnered the most attention last time. However, they are going to have a more DIY approach this time.

Going Deep: The Hows and Whys of Blogging Critically by Kelly Jensen, Abby Johnson, Julia Riley and Janssen Brandshaw. Long term readers know this is a subject near and dear to my heart, so let me start off with saying what “blogging critically” means to me. It doesn’t mean “negative reviews.” It doesn’t mean not liking the books. It means, when the initial reader response is “I loved/like/hated the book,” answering “why” in the blog post. But enough of me, on to Kelly, Abby, Julia and Janssen (and Abby and Janssen participated virtually via Google Plus, which meant special guest stars of Janssen’s baby and husband in the background!) But first, Abby also explored at her blog, Abby the Librarian, the issue of why blogging critically.

Why blog critically, indeed? Abby said that as a librarian, she uses book blogs to make decisions about what to purchase for her library. (My aside: yes, blogs are used for purchasing!)

Things to look at while blogging critically: plot, character, setting, pace. By looking at a book critically it helps a reviewer figure out why a book worked or didn’t work; why that “meh” reaction or “I loved it” reaction happened.

And, critical reviews offers something more meaningful to those reading your blog. It’s especially helpful to back up that discussion with textual evidence (i.e., quotes) (personally speaking, one reason I love blog reviews is it allows longer reviews that includes quotes to illustrate what did and didn’t work about a book).

How long should a review be? (And let me give a shout out to my favorite book blogger who uses haiku to blog critically, Emily Reads). As someone who tends to blog with longer posts, I was relieved to hear Kelly say, “it’s not an issue of length, it’s an issue of substance.”

As to the big question of, can you use publisher copy or write your own plot summary, the panel agreed either is a valid approach with one caveat: cite whether or not you’re using the publisher copy.

What about spoilers? Who is your audience, Abby asked. If it’s gatekeepers, you may need some spoilers; with teen readers, not so much.

Finally, the recommended “tool kit” of things ou can look at when writing critically about a book: character development (is it fleshed out? believable? authentic?), dialogue (say it out loud, does it sound like something someone would actually say?), pacing, language & writing, voice, and reader appeal. And don’t forget — when reviewing an audiobook, talk about the narrator!


Review: Glow

Glow: The Sky Chasers by Amy Kathleen Ryan. St. Martin’s Griffin, Macmillan. 2011. Reviewed from uncorrected bound manuscript from ALA.

The Plot: Waverly Marshall, 15, and Kieran Alden, 16, are two of the oldest children on the space ship Empyrean. The Empyrean (along with its sister ship, the New Horizon) are full of settlers on their way to a new planet, leaving old Earth behind.

Children are important on Empyrean. Initially, there had been problems with the settlers conceiving, so now nothing is as important as their children and those who can have children having children. Waverly feels the societal pressure to marry Kieran and began having the children that will ensure their future; Waverly does love Kieran — she thinks. He is a catch, being groomed to be a captain, an important person on the Empyrean. Who wouldn’t want him? Kieran thinks everything is settling into place; he has a future, he has respect, he has Waverly. The future is all it should be.

Until the ship New Horizon is seen outside the Empyrean’s windows. New Horizon is supposed to be ahead of them; to see that ship means it has deviated from the flight plan. It means something must be wrong.

Something is wrong. More wrong than Waverly, Kieran, or anyone else can imagine.

The Good: This is classic science fiction, with a space ship and everything! Two spaceships, even! As can be seen from Waverly’s last name, there are allusions to another group of pilgrims. It’s not just the names; religion is significant, with one group religious and the other group secular. 

Something happens — something pretty bad. It is surprising and shocking and world-altering. Waverly and Kieran, their friends and family are tested in unbelievable ways. It happens pretty early in the book, and it sets everything in motion. It is also the beginning of wisdom, as Waverly and Kieran begin to learn of the secrets that were kept from them.

Glow is plot driven, yes; there are attacks, battles, escapes, some very tough choices being made; but Glow is also an examination of character. Neither the inhabitants of Empyrean nor New Horizon are perfect or innocent. Bad things happen, people do terrible things, and if there is one overriding theme it is about how power corrupts.

How to talk about the characters without revealing too many of the twists and turns of the plot?

Waverly is a terrific character; she’s smart, she’s driven, she’s moral. I wish I could say the same for Kieran, but the truth is I never quite warmed to him. Yes, he’s smart; yes, he’s driven; and yes, he sees himself as moral and responsible. In the beginning, he is not so much arrogant as overly self confident. He’s the type who wants to be in charge, wants to be the leader, but when push comes to shove doesn’t quite know what to do or how to lead. What he does know is he doesn’t like someone else being in charge. Kieran’s someone who, I think, believes his own press; now when he is in a situation where he has to live up to his own hype, he finds it’s not as easy as he thought.

Waverly, on the other side, is a leader because of what she does, not because of who she wants to be. She’s not operating under the same baggage as Kieran about who she should be.

There is another possible love interest for Waverly, Seth Ardvale. What is fascinating about Seth is that he is more of a leader than Kieran, but he has a dark side. I’m not sure if Seth is jealous of Kieran, or is reacting to having a father who is a bit dismissive towards him, but it means that Seth may be a better leader than Kieran but is not an ideal leader. I say “love interest,” but it’s very light love interest. More like — a possibility.

I love that I didn’t like either Kieran or Seth; both young men are flawed and full of potential, both good and bad. It’s pretty gutsy of Ryan to create such “question mark” characters for the two main male characters. A question mark hangs over both their heads. Which way will they go? Good or bad?

KidLitCon 2011, Part III

The Keynote by Scott Westerfeld.

And now, Saturday, which began with such a spectacular keynote from Scott Westerfeld that all I can say is “whoa.” It was, in itself, wonderful. Beyond that, it was a perfect illustration of how to promote a book (Goliath) and oneself without being, well, — how to put it? Without being “me me me” aggressive/pushy.

Westerfeld did this by stepping back and not talking about his Leviathan Series. Instead he spoke about topics within the series from a more universal approach. It was, in a world, brilliant. At this point I’ll also add how much I admired how Westerfeld interacted with the attendees, which included staying for most of the con. (I, of course, was ridiculously awkward in my saying “hi” to him. Oh well!)

Point: I don’t want to rehash Westerfeld’s keynote, because, well, sad to say but truly — you had to be there. So if you have a chance to hear him? Go. Go because Westerfeld is smart, engaging, funny, and thoughtful. Go because he talks about creating stories. If for no other reason, go to see how one terrific way of how to promote a book.

I will say a few things: Westerfeld spoke about the interaction between text and image and story, something I find personally fascinating while professionally frustrating (working for a library for the blind and physically handicapped, where books are either in Braille or audiobook, it can be a bit “argh” to realize the Braille reader or audio listener may get a different reading experience due to this interaction). He called the Sears, Roebuck catalog the Internet of its time. (Remind me sometime to explain why I sometimes call Moby Dick like reading on the Internet.) Talking about the history of illustrated novels led to talk about why they fell out of favor led to talk about Westerfeld’s own illustrated novels, including working with the illustrator, Keith Thompson. His keynote was beautifully crafted.

Teaming Up: How Authors and Bloggers Can Work Together for Successful Promotion by Suzanne Young and Sara Gundell. Young, the author of several books including this year’s A Need So Beautiful, spoke from an author perspective and Gundell, of Novel Novice, represented bloggers. Young and Gundell spoke both globally, to all authors and bloggers, but also specifically, mentioning the ways they have worked together to promote both Young’s books and Gundell’s blog. This last part is what I cannot emphasize enough: this is not about “how to promote authors” or “how to promote blogs”; it is about doing both.

Let’s back up first: the key question for both is how to meet? How to start teaming up? I love when answers are so simple that I think “of course.” The “of course” here is start by going to local book signings and book events. Authors will be, including authors who may not be signing at that event; book bloggers will be there, because, well, books. If you’re not going to such events because it’s not “your” book or you’re too busy etc., you’re missing a chance to connect in real time. For those who don’t have such opportunities (and just check out your local bookstores, especially independents, before saying you don’t), there is always Facebook, Twitter and blogs, and commenting and talking there. (Seriously, there are people I interact with on these sites that I don’t realize at first are authors because we’re engaged in real conversations, because the content we both put up is beyond “buy my book” or “read my blog”.)

Young and Gundell shared some of the things they did such as a videos for Young’s book, So Many Boys, that then appeared on Gundell’s blog. This creation of truly unique content served to cross-promote both book and blog. Of, as with their Team Get Some series, the promotion is YA in general but also, of course, promotes the two people running the series. Their point wasn’t “do this” for your book or blog; their point was “connect” and then brainstorm to create something new, something different, something unique. What I also took away was treat each other as equals, as partners, as a “team”, not as an author who can do something for your blog or a blog that can do something for an author. Another sensible suggestion for both: that blogs look at newer authors, and authors look at newer blogs, when looking for someone to “team up” with.

Review: The Revenant

The Revenant by Sonia Gensler. Knopf, an imprint of Random House. 2011.

The Plot: 1896. Willie Hammond, 17, knows what she doesn’t want; she doesn’t want to leave school, abandoning her (and her father’s) dreams of an excellent education. She doesn’t want to return to the family farm, with her mother, stepfather, and half-siblings. She doesn’t want the endless toil and drudgery of being treated as a hired hand by her mother and stepfather.

So Willie runs away, pretending to be Angelina McClure, English teacher, heading to the Cherokee Female Seminary in Indian Territory. How hard can it be, Willie wonders? What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the first thing is the students aren’t a bunch of ignorant children desperate to learn their ABCs. They are elegant, wealthy, educated, and sophisticated. Willie is probably younger than some of her students! Speaking of students, Willie also didn’t count on handsome Eli Sevenstar, a friendly (and slightly flirtatious) senior at the nearby boy’s school.

What Willie really didn’t count on was the ghost — the ghost who haunts the school, who haunts her room, and is growing more dangerous every day.

The Good: The two things that come to mind first about The Revenant are “ghost story” and “historical fiction.”

Ghost story: The year before Willie arrives at the school, Ella Blackstone, a senior, drowned in the nearby river and her boyfriend ran away. Ella’s ghost makes herself known in both subtle ways — cold spots, tapping sounds — and more dangerous ways — a teacup breaks, cutting a girl, another falls down steps, a third breaks a leg. Students and teachers alike whisper about exorcisms and seances. Willie doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she does believe that there is more to the story of Ella’s disappearance. The Revenant is a satisfying ghost story, balancing the supernatural with mystery.

Historical Fiction: The Revenant does what I like best, shining a light on history that is either little known or little covered. Here, it is the Cherokee Female Seminary as well as the Indian Territory of the late 19th century. After one of Willie’s thoughtless comments to her fellow teacher, Miss Adair (by the way, Miss Adair is a graduate of the Seminary) (“who would have thought I’d need such fine clothes for Indian Territory?”), she is told “there are many different tribes, each with its own traditions and customs, you know. And each tribe has it’s own ideas of what it means to be civilized.” For the 19th century Cherokees, Willie (and the readers) learns about different tensions based on wealth, status, family, full/mixed blood status, and “progressive” or “traditional” families. The author’s note details the research she did, including review and feedback. Further information about that research is in these interviews: a three part interview at Novel Novice; The Apocalypsies Interview; Article at the Tahlequah Daily Press; the YA Highway Interview.

But now, on to what fascinated me most about The Revenant: no, not the ghost story. No, not the history. And at this point, there will be spoilers. So, stop reading now if you don’t like any type of spoilers.

You were warned.

What fascinates me most is Willie herself. Gensler is rather fearless in her depiction of Willie. Even though Willie is telling the story, it quickly becomes apparent that Willie is far from perfect. She’s immature, quick to judge, has run away from home, and as a teacher is in over her head. Also? While she is a teacher (or, rather, pretending to be a teacher and older), she engages in a flirtation with Eli Sevenstar, who, while not Willie’s student, is still a student. As mentioned above, Willie makes statements that are offensive to the modern reader such as “an Indian in law school?” (By the way, the person she is talking about? Eli!) Rest assured, this bias ends, but it’s both shocking and unsettling to read. Such casual bigotry did (and still does) exist, and Gensler takes risks by having her main character say and think these things.

Further risk taking is shown in Willie’s “speak first, regardless of who is around” attitude. The comment about law school? Is made in front of her students! Yet Willie never wonders if part of the antagonism she gets from these same students may be motivated by the things Willie said around them.

Miss Adair, who becomes Olivia, a good friend, believes in spirits and seances. Willie’s reaction? A laugh and “I find this notion of spirits very backward.” Later, Willie excuses her rudeness with “I was too brash, just like my papa. It’s an unfortunate fault, for its left me terribly lonely. I should have apologized long ago . . . .” That is how immature Willie is: she excuses her own mean statements with “oops, that’s just how I am!” and then considers the bad consequences in terms of the impact on herself (loneliness) not on Olivia.

Willie’s flaws are also highlighted in her teaching. Willie does have some good, inspired moments; and not surprisingly, she finds teaching those younger than herself easier than teaching those closer to her own age. Willie avoids doing what she doesn’t want to do or what she doesn’t know how to do — for months, she avoids marking her student’s essays. Imagine never getting a grade from your teacher! I love, love, love Willie for having these faults and find them very age-appropriate and believable, and it helped make Willie a full, real person. I love that Gensler lets Willie be real. Truthfully, an untrained seventeen year old pretending to be a teacher would act just like Willie does! Willie has the potential to be a good teacher, and that shows in her passion for literature (especially Shakespeare), but when it comes to things like grading and discipline, Willie has a lot to learn.

Just like my papa.” You’ve been thinking, OK, this analysis of Willie’s character isn’t really spoilery. But it is; because of Papa. And the real “revenant,” or ghost, is not Ella.

It’s Papa; not as a ghost, but as the father who shaped his daughter. A father who was a drunk, who played his daughter against his wife, who preferred to dream instead of to do and instilled in his daughter a feeling of superiority over those doers who actually work, like her mother and stepfather. That Papa is a drunk is not revealed until the final chapters, but some readers may pick up on clues before then that Papa was not the perfect specimen that Willie believes him to be. Willie loves her father, admires him, respects him. When I got to the end of The Revenant, I suddenly saw Willie as a child of an alcoholic and it shifted how I saw Willie and her actions in the first part of the book. Willie worships her father, excuses him because he is a charmer, and dismisses the parent who was left to pick up the pieces. It takes Willie a long, long, long time to even admit to her father’s faults  (“If Papa had been a drunk, [my mother] drove him to it“) and even longer to stop blaming her mother. One confrontation leaves her mother saying, “You think you can take care of yourself, but you are too much like your father in doing so — lying, cutting corners, hurting others.”

And that is what I like about Willie and Gensler’s risk in writing Willie: because for almost 300 pages Willie has been doing all that her mother says, lying, cutting corners, hurting others. She’s been her father’s daughter, but because she’s been lying to the reader about her dear, perfect, Papa, the reader doesn’t realize that something is happening other than immaturity. What’s also risky of Gensler is that Willie’s year away teaching and ghost-hunting does nothing to force Willie to stop and confront her own past. It’s not until Willie is forced to go home (I warned you!) that she has to stop running from her own history, her own ghosts.

So, come to The Revenant for the ghost story and the history; but leave thinking of the way children are molded by their parents and how that haunts them their entire lives. Who is brave enough to exorcise away the lovely fantasy of a doting father?

KidLitCon 2011, Part II

 Day One, Part Two. I should point out that for most of the conference, there were choices between two panels. Much like saying to someone, “do you want ice cream or a brownie? no, you cannot have both.” 

One is Silver and the Other’s Gold: A Discussion on Blogging Backlist vs. New Releases, and Why It Doesn’t Have to Be Versus by Maureen Kearney, Jen Robinson and Melissa Madsen Fox. To be honest, I sat down in this session believing that I don’t blog enough backlist titles, I do too many new releases, and that this panel would energize me to review more older titles.

I came away energized to review more older titles, yes; but also with the realization that I am blogging backlist titles and didn’t even know it. One of the first things the panelists said was that, for the purposes of the panel and blogging, they defined “older books” as ones that had a publication date of six months or older. Yes, that’s right; six months. As Maureen explained further at her blog, Confessions of a Bibliovore, “For the purposes of our discussion, we said that “older” meant it was published more than six months ago. While that sounds massively silly, the topic came up at last year’s KidLitCon that publishers have a window of three months before and three months after the publication date of a book that seems to be the golden time for the publicity blitz. After that, it’s on to the next thing. So six months? Collecting Social Security.”

While the six months may cause some authors to pull out their hair and throw their laptop across the room, really, the good news is that blogs aren’t limited to what the publishers perceive as the “golden time.” (Actually, I would love to have a bigger, in depth conversation about this, the time period, what it means in terms of book sales, etc. As pointed out at the panel, some of it, from the publisher point of view, is simple time constraints: six months after a book’s publication, the publishers are concentrating on the then-current new books.)

Reasons for blogging the backlist: it builds trust with your readers when you blog a book they’ve read; it allows a blogger to review an entire series; books that are available in paperback are being currently reviewed, which helps those buyers who only buy paperbacks; and it’s freeing to review books without being driven by the external publication date. Also, often as bloggers, we blog about the books we have access to and those books are the older titles. Also, “books are all new to [readers] if they haven’t read it before.” Blogging older titles also helps deepen a blogger’s own knowledge of children’s literature, and to see books in a historical context. Examples for this included being aware of dystopian YA before now; reading The Dark is Rising against the backdrop of Watergate.

Melissa of Book Nut gave what may be my favorite quote about blogging: “My blog is for me … I blog for me. Everyone who reads it is just coming to my party.”

How to Build a Better World With Your Book Blog by Chris Singer. Singer spoke about his blog, Book Dads, that was originally begun by others. The original purpose of the blog was examining the portrayal of fathers in media, but, especially under Singer, it has expanded its mission to promoting literacy. Singer discussed not just his blog, but also his personal history (such as working in Uganda) that led him to this mission. As sometimes happens (especially, it seems, at kidlitcon!) discussion turned also to reviewing books versus recommending books and critical blogging. Different organizations that were mentioned for working with for promoting literacy included RIF, LitWorld, Reach Out & Read, First Book, We Give Books, and Books for Kids. (I’m also mentioning Kids Need To Read, founded by P.J. Haarsma, who attended the first Kidlitcon in 2007 in Chicago.) Singer spoke about different ways that could work; or also creating projects, such as Bucoseh, the book drive for Haiti.

KidLitCon 2011, Part I

It’s been said before, it’ll be said again, part of the fun of KidLitCon —  the conference for children’s and young adult book bloggers — is being able to meet in person the people you know online. Sometimes, it just needs five minute; Kelly Jensen at Stacked Books and I met last year with barely enough time to say “hello,” and that was more than enough for us to talk that much more online, and then meet up at ALA Midwinter and Annual and BEA, and this year, again, at KidLitCon where we ate a lot of food and laughed a lot.

But, it’s more than just sitting, talking, and learning the right way to make Chinese tea (thanks to Anne Boles Levy and Vital Tea Leaf.) This year’s conference was held in Seattle at Hotel Monaco (don’t ask about the goldfish….) and organized by Colleen Mondor and Jackie Parker; the program was designed by Sarah Stevenson.

Day One, Part One: Friday, September 16.

Bloggers and Writers and Pubs, Oh My! by Pam Coughlan, Zoe Ludertiz, and Kirby Larson, and me. A big thanks to Zoe for being the “pubs” part of the panel and Kirby for the “writers.” Our goal (in only fifty minutes!) was to “explore the relationships of the various members of the children’s literature industry.” (I know, no agents! Maybe next time!) As Colleen’s post shows, it inspired conversation during and after the panel; and, honestly, I think that there is so much to talk about, and so many differences between publishers, writers, and bloggers, and how they blog or what they want. Pam, Zoe, Kirby and I had a handful of questions that we talked about (and more we just didn’t have time for), such as What’s your favorite thing that book/publisher/author bloggers do? What makes you go ‘huh, I wonder why they do that?’, What one thing you wish bloggers/publishers/authors knew, and how do negative reviews affect our relationships. From my random notes jotted down as I was both listening and talking: high on my list for authors was a website that contained their list of books; whether there is a “blurring” in our relationships with each other or are we just more aware of our relationships; the fear of bloggers that books won’t be sent by publishers if reviews are negative, leading to a side conversation about negative reviews, critical reviews, and why sometimes negative reviews don’t appear (pretty much “I don’t have time to blog about the books I do like so how can I have time to blog about the ones I don’t like”). Also: I mentioned that in terms of relationships (i.e., bloggers also being writers, for example), that awareness is key along with transparency, so that the blog reader can decide whether they think the relationship influenced the review.

The Future of Transmedia Storytelling: Angel Punk, Pottermore and Skeleton Creek by Amber J. Keyser, Devon Lyon, Matthew Wilson and Jake Rossman.  Long term readers know that while I may use the term “book,” often what I mean is “story,” and I love good storytelling, whether it’s book or comic or film. I also am intrigued by the following ideas: that some stories are told best in certain medium (i.e., Mad Men is best as a TV series, because it needs both the visuals and the multi episode storytelling); and that the same story can be approached through multiple avenues and each be valid (i.e., the multiple ways that the King Arthur story has been approached over centuries). So it was with great excitement that I sat down to listen to this panel. Keyser, Lyon, Wilson and Rossman are all involved with the AngelPunk project, a transmedia project. The four not only spoke about their own roles in the project, but also about transmedia storytelling in general. The idea of “transmedia storytelling” is this: telling a story across different media, with the story always conceived that way and the different media not simply re-purposing the same content. So, while Pottermore was discussed, because Harry Potter wasn’t initially conceived as using the online site it isn’t true transmedia storytelling. Other transmedia stories discussed included The 39 Clues, Inanimate Alice, and iDrakula.

One part of transmedia storytelling is that web content and fan engagement can also be part of the story; or, another way to put it if “story” sounds too linear for all these parts, the “general universe” that has been created that contains all the individual, linked stories. (Linked meaning the film may be the prequel to the novel, with comics using secondary characters as main characters.) So,  you can see why I got excited about this panel and why it has given me much to think about. While the panel didn’t address ebooks, since I believe ebooks are going to evolve into their own medium, I can easily see a transmedia story where one story is told in ebook and another in book format. What I also liked about the panel was the inclusion of a lawyer, Matthew Wilson, in the panel and the development of the universe/story of AngelPunk. Wilson discussed such issues as intellectual property and digital rights and how they work in this type of context, both with multiple individuals involved but also with fan inclusion. One thing he mentioned was “transmedia exclusion,” allowing the cutting a bit of a story and using it in a different way. Keyser, as the author of the upcoming AngelPunk novel, also spoke about how that works — writing a story when the canon/continuity matters and cannot be changed.

Another part that really impressed me from the panel was the observation that the energy of readers/viewers matters, noting the buzz that comes up during release dates of films and books. Transmedia storytelling (or at least how AngelPunk is doing it) organizes their release dates to always keep have some new bit of content being released, in order to keep the energy up. (My observation: much like the marketing for the Hunger Games movies always has something in the news, from casting to pics to trailers.) For AngelPunk, part of that is not just timed release of book, film, and comic but also, for example, Keyser providing Rossman with snippets of her work in progress to use on the website.

Finally, the panel also brought up the issue of how the  heck does a reviewer review such a work? In whole or in part? Should the book stand alone? Or do you have to enage in the whole world? (My observation: how much does one need to know about the War of the Roses to understand Tudor politics while reading a book about Anne Boleyn? Because in a way, that is a similar context for reviewing a prequel/sequel/companion story.)

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrations by Ana Juan. Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. 2011. Reviewed from copy from publisher. 

The Plot: September is washing teacups in the kitchen when the Green Wind comes, asking if she’d like to come away with him and go to Fairyland. Of course, September says yes. What child wouldn’t? And so begins September’s quests and adventures in Fairyland.

The Good: How lovely, just how quickly September accepts the invitation of the Green Wind and how easily and deeply she believes in it, the Green Wind and his flying leopard, Fairyland and witches and dragons. September makes friends and accepts challenges and jumps into adventures. It’s not risk free. There are real dangers, both to herself and her new friends, and important decisions have to be made.

September’s seamless acceptance of the magical makes this a read for both those young enough themselves to believe that Fairyland may exist in the back of wardrobes, but also those old enough to no longer care what others think of their reading choices. This a delightful, rich, inventive book for both children and adults, readers understood by another writer whose magical world just happened, without explanation. As C.S. Lewis says in the dedication in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: “I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Sometimes, a reader has to be old enough for fairy tales.

The language of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is rich and deep, with much for both those for whom it is all new and for those who recognize other times, other places, other books, deeper truths. Chapter headings are elaborate and old fashioned, such as “Chapter 1. Exeunt on a Leopard. In Which a Girl Named September Is Spirited Off by Means of a Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle.” There is wordplay, not always obvious at first: “All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror.” Observations are made to the reader: “[September] felt quite bold and intrepid and, having paid her own way, quite grown up. This inevitably leads to disastrous decisions.” And this, so true: “ . . . you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief.”

As you can tell from the quotes, there is humor. Other parts that will make the reader smile and chuckle: a wyvern who believes his father is a library. Yes, a library, not a librarian. A woman made out of soap and is called Lye, with the word “Truth” on her forehead.

Some other perspectives:

At Finding Wonderland: “I quickly found myself absorbed in this charming, whimsical, offbeat tale peopled with a vast range of quirky and memorable characters, from the humanoid to the animal to the animated-inanimate. There are surprises and adventures at every turn in this book, which is suitable for middle grade audiences (although fans of creatively written fantasy might enjoy this book at any age).”

At The Book Smugglers: “it is a book that is so beautifully written and full of incredible imaginative twists and ideas that I constantly had a sense of wonderment reading it; but above all, this is a book I will treasure forever and keep close and go back to, many times in the future” and “each creature has an underlying idea or concept or issue that is addressed with subtly and beauty: from a search for self-identity (if Wyvern is not the son of a library, then who is he?) to the horrible truths of slavery; from selfless devotion to political unrest. This is a book that celebrates fairytales without ever being derivative and never forgetting that they can be dark and gruesome.”

At Fuse #8:Here you have an author who clearly enjoys writing. And if that enjoyment seeps through the page and into the reader’s perceptions, then here is a book that they’ll clearly enjoy reading. A true original and like nothing you’ve really ever seen before.”


I go away for a few days and the Internets explode!

In all seriousness, the amount of posts, comments to posts, Twitter responses and other items for what I’m about to post about is almost overwhelming to read in their volume. I’m linking to a the main posts and a handful of others that contain the best round up and explanation of both what happened, how it happened, and how people reacted.

On September 12, in a guest blog post at the Publishers Weekly Blog Genreville, two authors post Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA. At the time I write this, there are over 300 comments. As the title indicates, the authors (co-authors for a work of fiction) said, “The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.”

 On September 15, Colleen Lindsay hosted a response from an agent at the agency referenced (but not named) in the Genreville post. (Please note the author of the guest post is an agent at the agency but not “the” agent referenced). The agent gave a different version of what happened,

Genreville then posted Riposte and Counter-riposte, which references the post at Lindsay’s blog and includes the response of the authors.

So that is the primary conversation.

For the tweets and posts that arose around the conversation, read Cleolinda (who readers may remember I’ve relied on before for her thorough recaps): What’s Going On With #YesGayYA (the twitter tag used for the general discussion).

For a thorough look from the YA perspective, read YA Highway: Field Trip Friday Special Edition: #YesGayYA.

Also interesting, because I like looking at opinions and thoughts from beyond the YA book blogosphere: Dear Author’s two blog posts on this, on Tuesday (after the original Genreville post) and Friday (after the agency response).

If, like me, the hundreds of comments get overwhelming, both Cleolinda and YA Highway do a great job of highlighting the pertinent ones.

I’d also like to point out Malinda Lo’s post about the numbers of LGBT YA books being published, I have numbers! Stats on LGBT Young Adult Books Published in the U.S. – Updated 9/15/11. Bottom line? Less than one percent of YA  books have LGBT characters.

And, finally, I’ll use Lee Wind’s words, from his recap and post at I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read: “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if we’ll ever know exactly how things were said or interpreted or misinterpreted between these writers and this agency, but I’m still glad this larger discussion is happening – I don’t want agents or editors or marketing departments or anyone in publishing to feel that it’s okay to request the de-gaying or other de-minority-ing of characters.”

My takeaway is, well, the same as before these posts; it’s just that this reminds me of it’s importance. Basically, readers can impact what gets published in a very simple way. Read the books. Ask your bookseller or librarian for books; review them on blogs, Goodreads, Amazon. More and more, on Twitter and blogs and websites, publishers are interacting with readers; go, there, and add your voice letting the publishers and editors and agents know, yes, I read books with LGBT characters, so please give us more.

Review: Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance

Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance by Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin. Walker Books for Young Readers, a division of Bloomsbury Publishing. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Who doesn’t love the hit TV show, Jenna & Jonah’s How to Be a Rock Star? It’s on the Family Network, and it’s so fun, especially how Jenna and Jonah are next door neighbors who fall in love and also are rock stars! Their songs are just so fab! And isn’t it cute how Charlie Tracker, who plays Jenna, and Fielding Withers, who plays Jonah, are dating each other in real life! I know all about it because I’ve seen the photos in Celeb Weekly.

Meet Charlie and Fielding. It seems like these two teens have it all; at seventeen, the world is theirs! Well, if you ignore the fact that Charlie has been legally emancipated for two years, when at age fifteen she found out that her parents had spent all her money. Fielding’s on his own, also, since his parents are back home in Cincinnati, believing at seventeen he’s old enough to be on his own. Luckily, they both have their agents — the same agents who concocted the idea, years ago, for Charlie and Fielding to be a “real” couple. Yep, it’s a fauxmance for the sake of cameras and photographers and publicity.

Darn, you just cannot believe anything you read or see.

By the way — Fielding’s real name? Aaron Littleton.

The Good: Confession: I like TV. Further confession: I’m equal opportunity in my viewing, and I’ve been known to watch both movies and TV shows aimed at teens and tweens. Further, further confession: I subscribe to People and Us Magazine, and have been known to read TMZ.

In other words…. Franklin & Halpin wrote this book just for me. Which, actually, is a bit dangerous because, being as I respect the shows and the actors, I’m not going to accept the easy laugh, the mocking, the making fun. A shallow look at the television industry just won’t do for me. Luckily for all of us, Franklin and Halpin address the issues of teen stardom, publicity, acting, talent, professionalism, entertainment, and celebrity with equal parts humor, respect, and cynicism.

Charlie and Fielding are in musical sitcom aimed at tweens; they’ve grown up on TV. Charlie was born and raised in the industry and doesn’t want to be know as a former child actress; Fielding doesn’t know what he wants, but he sees how hard his blue collar father works and realized the best thing to do was save his acting money so he’d have financial security to do whatever comes after teen stardom. Part of what makes their show popular is the belief that the actors behind it — Charlie and Fielding — are a couple, just like their characters. Truth is, the aren’t a couple and can barely stand each other. I loved the parts where Charlie and Fielding go on fake-dates that maximize their brand and appeal: go to the open food market and buy strawberries together! Go to dinner and order carefully selected meals; Fielding is a vegetarian in real life, but that won’t do for the fans, so he’s forced to order meals he doesn’t eat. I loved this look into lives on the other side of the camera, and wondered how much was the result of research and how much was over the top. For example, I can believe the pre-arranged photo ops, the restrictions against the teens getting drastic haircuts or tattoos, but limiting their ice cream choices?

It doesn’t take too long for the carefully constructed farce to come crashing down and Charlie and Fielding flee to a safe, remote house. While there, Fielding slowly reclaims his name, Aaron, and the two begin to be honest with themselves and each other.

I enjoyed the Hollywood and acting background, but the heart of this story is the layered romance between Charlie and Aaron. They are two teens playing teens who like each other playing teens who like each other. The faking has been going on so long that neither is aware of what their real feelings are; much like how both have been doing sitcom acting for so long, they’re not sure if they really have any talent as actors. This is a bickering romance book, much like Much Ado About Nothing, a play that figures prominently in the plot. The “we argue as if we hate each other but really don’t” plot can be hard to pull off; Franklin and Halpin do a terrific job of conveying the tension between Charlie and Aaron that masks their deeper emotions. Since the two teens were forced to “fake it” years ago, any initial feelings of something more being possible between them was never given the freedom to develop. Plus, there’s the model of Shakespeare’s famous Benedick and Beatrice. Finally, the book is told in alternating chapters so the reader knows first hand that Charlie and Aaron are conflicted about their complex feelings for each other.

Bottom line: this is a fun book! Charlie and Aaron know each well enough to push each other’s buttons and I enjoyed their verbal sparring. I loved the look at what life may be like for tween and teen stars caught up in the Hollywood machine; and I liked the inclusion of people who love acting so much they do Goblin 3: Son of Goblin to help subsidize participation in Shakespeare Festivals. Summer may be over, but it’s always time for a fun beach read like Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance.