Audience and Writing for Readers, An Unconventional Tour

When I volunteered to cover “audience and writing for readers” for the Unconventional Blog Tour, I thought it would be easy. I even “wrote” a bit out during my commute to and from work. No, fellow drivers, not literally, but rather working through some ideas and concepts.

Then I sat down to write it; and not only didn’t the writing come easy, but the draft post was eaten by the Internet. I’ll take that as a sign that perhaps it wasn’t as brilliant as I thought it was.

The short, easy answer to “why do I write,” or, here, “why do I blog,” is “for myself.”

The longer, philosophical answer gets into a combination of wanting to be heard; but also wanting to connect with others, through writing and reading, commenting and posting. For this particular area of the universe, it’s connecting over books and reading and literacy and reading culture. But either of those answers are, in a way, so bland as to be meaningless.

To be honest, when I picture a reader — picture an audience — well, I picture me. Not me, precisely: not me in terms of gender, age, politics, religion, career, education, etc., etc.

I’m a reader, so I write for readers. I write about books, and why I like certain books. It can be a bit difficult, especially when it’s about a book where I want a reader to discover the book just like I did, but at the same time, I want to delve into what made the book so incredible and that could spoil the book for readers. How do I figure that out? Based entirely on what I enjoyed finding out for myself.

I write for people interested in reading culture. People who realize a “book” is more than paper or e-ink; who are intrigued by story or narrative; who want to be entertained; who are seeking information. Who see the value in people reading, and so are interested in all the things that go along with stories and books and reading: diversity, and cover art, and publishing; different types of readers; how a draft becomes a book; what the difference is between “young adult” and “tweens”; what reading levels really mean; etc. etc. This includes writing as if reading matters; and hoping that my readers, here, share that belief.

I’m a librarian whose job involves Readers Advisory, so I write about why people would want to read certain books. RA is about more than telling people what my favorite books are, it’s about identifying what the appeal factors are for certain books and writing about that. Readers of this blog will, hopefully, see that and remember books not for themselves, but for the readers they work with. Booksellers or teachers may call that book matchmaking something different, but the common intent is there.

I’ve seen various things in other places (articles, blog posts, twitter) about what blogs are or aren’t; what bloggers are or aren’t; what blogs should or should not be. And then they give advice to all and sundry based on that.

I won’t go into what does or does not work for other bloggers.

To be honest — and I’m trying to be honest — this is what works for me. This is what makes me tick.

It’s not true for everyone.

And it shouldn’t be true for everyone because then the blogosphere would be terribly boring. Even if somethings are the same — say, you blog for readers — you may come to it with a different approach than what works for me (which tends to be a combination of what I enjoyed about a book and what others may like about the book).

So why do you blog?


Review: The Unseen Guest

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book 3, The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2012. Review copy from publisher. Website for the book (with games, etc.) Book 1: The Mysterious Howling; Book 2: The Hidden Gallery.

The Plot: The three Incorrigible children (Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia) and their governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, have returned from their London adventure and are happily ensconced in Ashton Place. Nothing ever remains safe and comfortable for these four, and unexpected guests of both the animal and human kind lead to new adventures and new questions about their mysterious origins.

The Good: I just love how smart the Incorrigible Children books are. The words, the references, the allusions, all of it. This book alone mentions dodos, derbys (the race and the hat), pince nez, ostriches, Edgar Allan Poe, rhetorical questions, puns, and synonyms.

If a reader stumbles upon this without having read the first two, there will be no confusion; Wood handily explains the premise: children raised by wolves now being raised by teen governess whose own parents abandoned her at a girls’ school. They will enjoy this one so much they will go back to read the first two; and, based on how carefully crafted and well-structured these books are, as a series, that reader will probably pick up on clues to the origins of the Incorrigibles and Penelope that the in-order readers like myself missed.

The unexpected guests are Lord Ashton’s widowed mother Hortense, her fiance, Admiral Faucet, and Faucet’s ostrich. The ostrich, the basis of Faucet’s several money-making schemes, has escaped and must be tracked down and found. Faucet wants to find it alive; Ashton, the hunter, wants it dead so he can place it amongst his other trophies. Faucet recruits the Incorrigibles to his cause, using them because their skills at tracking are superb. The scenes of Miss Lumley preparing for the expedition are hilarious, as her “must have” lists basically mean bringing all the comforts of home with them.

I could make this entire post quotes from the book; I’m showing my restraint by avoiding those that are too spoilery, or need to be read in context. Here is one that makes sense no matter what: “ a person who had recently made an error herself, and had gone to the trouble of correcting it, [Miss Lumley] knew better than to expect other people to be perfect at all times.”

Also fun? All the sayings of Miss Angela Swanburne, the founder of the school that Miss Lumley attended. Has anyone put together a site just of her sayings? Here are to classics: “new boots never fit as well as old” and “patience can untangle the knottiest shoelace, but so can a pair of scissors.”

The background mystery of these books — the origins of the children and Miss Lumley herself — continues to move forward. It does so at a slow pace; a few hints revealed, with the reader often guessing more than the characters. When the Incorrigibles go on their expedition, they gleefully recall their pre-Ashton Place days of living in a cave. With quilts and sandwiches. Sandwiches, Miss Lumley asks? The children laugh at Miss Lumley’s ignorance; of course, sandwiches! There are also the wolves, and the encounter with the wolves and the hints of other wolfish things continue to pile up.

Because this series continues to be smart, funny, and respects the readers; because I have no idea what the mystery concerning the Incorrigibles and Lumley will end being; because Miss Lumley is so brave and proper and smart, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: Educating Alice; YA Librarian Tales; Compulsive Reader (guest post); Good Books and Good Wine (guest post).

Maryrose Wood went on a Blog Tour for this book earlier this year; a complete list of stops is at her blog, at Did you miss the Incorrigible Blog Tour? Here are the links.

An Unconventional Tour

So Kelly Jensen from Stacked and I were chatting one day, and “what if” turned into a “let’s” about organizing a group of books bloggers to write about what we love best.

OK, second best. Since first best is books.

Second best is blogging.

We brainstormed what bloggers would be interested, and then Kelly did the heavy lifting of emailing, scheduling, and organizing.

In Kelly’s words, over in the introductory post at Stacked about On Blogging, An Unconventional Blog Tour: “One of the best parts about blogging is getting to know other bloggers and not only getting to know them, but actually learning from them. Every blogger brings something different to what they do, be it by the way they approach writing or reviewing or by virtue of having a background or experience outside of blogging that influences them. It’s from that thought where Liz and myself starting thinking: wouldn’t it be neat if a bunch of bloggers tackled a topic about blogging — ethics, politics, practices, etc. — that allowed them to really share the knowledge or background they have on those topics? Welcome to an unconventional week of bloggers talking about blogging! Over the next five days, ten bloggers will be tackling a host of different topics through the lenses of their own expertise. We’re hoping this is not only helpful for new bloggers, but also seasoned veterans and anyone who interacts with bloggers or wants to be better about interacting with them. . . . . We hope this is an opportunity for an open and honest discourse on blogging, but we also hope it’s educational and enlightening. Feel free to jump into discussions this week. We’re all eager to talk about these issues and share our knowledge as best we can.”

The tour schedule:

Monday, May 28

Pam Coughlin (MotherReader) on Playing Nicely

Colleen Mondor (Chasing Ray) on Author-Blogger relationships

Tuesday, May 29

Ana and Thea (The Book Smugglers) on Maintaining Independence and Integrity

UPDATED: Liz Burns (A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy) on Audience and Writing for Readers

Wednesday, May 30

Sarah Moon (Clear Eyes, Full Shelves) on Finding Your Voice

Kelly Jensen (STACKED) on Leveraging Your Blog as Professional Experience 

Thursday, May 31

Sarah Bean Thompson (Green Bean Teen Queen) on Conference Professionalism

Kim Ukura (Sophisticated Dorkiness) on Objectivity vs. Transparency 

Friday, June 1

Sarah Andersen (YA Love Blog) on Community and Accountability

UPDATED: Kate Hart (Kate Hart) on Giving Credit Where Credit’s Due: Citing Your Sources

As you can see, a real mix of people, so it will be a mix of perspectives and opinions; of information; of life experience; of knowledge. I’m quite looking forward to it!

Peter Sieruta

One of my favorite Sunday things is reading Peter Sieruta’s weekly post at Collecting Children’s Books.

I woke up this morning, grabbed my phone — yes, I’m one of those people who check their mail and twitter feed quickly each morning. A quick look at what’s going on.

I didn’t expect bad news; I didn’t expect personal bad news. On Child-Lit, Monica Edinger shared the news that Peter had died. For those unfamiliar with his blog, here is his self description from his blog: “I’ve been involved with children’s books most of my life, from my earliest days working in the grade school library to my current job cataloging children’s books for a university. I’ve published young adult fiction, as well as thousands of book reviews, and have contributed articles and essays to a number of magazines and reference volumes dealing with the topic of children’s books.” Peter, Betsy Bird (A Fuse #8 Production), and Jules Danielson (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) have been editing their joint book, about the history of children’s books.

I have never met Peter — not in the real world. The Internet was what possible our knowing each other; blog posts, comments, Facebook, an occasional email or Facebook message. (To those who tisk tisk The Internet and online relationships: I can’t even.) I know Peter was intensively private; but I hoped that, perhaps, at some point the opportunity would come to say “hello” in real life and to chat about the history of children’s and teen book (what he knew and remembered about the oft-neglected teen books published in the pre-The Outsider years!). I have a stumper of a book that I read in eighth grade that I’ve been meaning to ask him about, but all I can remember is one of the names of the main characters so I was hoping to remember more before bothering him with it.

Details are few right now; Peter’s brother announced the news on Facebook. Betsy (Goodbye Peter. Peter was my friend) and Jules (In Honor of Peter) have posts up, as does Monica (The World of Children’s Literature Has Just Lost Another Great One).

My sympathy and prayers to Peter’s family and friends.

Review: Black Heart

Black Heart (The Curse Workers, Book Three) by Holly Black. Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Book One: White Cat. Book Two: Red Gloves.

Spoilers for first two books.

The Plot: Cassel Sharpe, 17, couldn’t stay out of trouble if he wanted to. (Now that’s a question; given his talents, his family, and his background, does he want to?)

The Feds are forgiving his past crimes if he works for them, using his unique talent as a transformation worker, someone who can transform whatever he touches.

His mother is in big trouble with the local crime boss, and all will be forgiven if Cassel does him one little favor. Cassel knows there is no such thing as one favor. It’s complicated by the fact that neither the mob nor the feds can now he’s working for the other. Oh, and another thing — the crime boss just happens to be the father of the girl Cassel loves.

Just to make things all that more simple — not — Cassel has to worry about his senior year in high school. Classes, avoiding demerits, friends, and a possible blackmail scheme.

It’s all in a day’s work for someone with a black heart like Cassel.

The Good: Black Heart is the third book in the trilogy about “case workers,” an alternate world that looks a lot like ours with one simple twist: curse workers. People who, with a touch of a finger, can kill you — or erase your memory — make you fall in love — or, in Cassel’s case, transform.

In the first two books, Cassel discovers his particular gift and realizes he has to make a choice about his future. Black Heart explores Cassel’s need to choose and what that means; and the ties, both blood and friendship and love, that link him to other people and what those ties mean about his future.

Black creates a flawless world, full of such tiny details as a society that always wears gloves so that a naked hand is more shocking than a naked body, to bigger issues such as the impact of the criminalization of people based on genetics beyond their control.

Are the feds the good guys and the mob the bad guys? Are curse worker by their nature criminals?

Cassel’s mother worked a politician, and it ended badly, with repercussions large and small. Is the only way to fix it to kill the politician? Will Cassel do that? Meanwhile, Cassel’s mother stole something from someone very powerful. Problem is, this happened years and years ago. Will Cassel be able to hunt through his family’s shady past, a mix of lies and truths and rearranged facts, to find the missing object?

Cassel narrates, and, as with the others, his observations and delivery are delightful. On love: “Lila would still be mine. Mine. The language of love is like that, possessive. That should be the first warning that it’s not going to encourage anyone’s betterment.”

Cassel on how he was raised to be able to con anyone, regardless of curse magic: “Mom taught it to me when I was ten. Cassel, she said, you want to know how to be the most charming guy anyone’s ever met? Remind them of their favorite person. Everyone’s favorite person is their own damn self.”

As with the previous books, Cassel appears to share everything with the reader, but holds back somethings. Not only is the book a con — a con of the reader — isn’t any book? At one point, Cassel thinks about someone, “she’s kind. She’s good. She wants to help people, even people that she shouldn’t.  . . . It’s easy to take advantage of her optimism, her faith in how the world should work. . . . . When I look into Mrs. Wasserman’s face, I know that she’s a born mark for this particular kind of con.” Later as he listens to something his brother is telling him: “the story he’s telling adds up . . . . Barron’s story is messy, full of coincidences and mistakes. As a liar myself, I know that the hallmark of lies is that they are simple and straightforward. They are reality the way we wish it was.”

Aren’t writers con artists, and readers the mark? Happy marks, happy to be born that way, because we want the story, we want the story to work, we want to like what we read. We enter into a bargain with the author: tell me lies, and I’ll believe them to be true.

If you’re one of those people who waits until it’s complete to read and buy a series, you have a new set of covers. If you aren’t, you have a cool thing to explain to people who look at your shelves and wonder about the change. And, if you wait till a series is over to make sure it’s worth investing the time: yes, this series is worth it and then some. Black Heart nicely wraps up the most important questions in Cassel’s journey, yet doesn’t answer every question or resolve every little thing. I could easily see a new series (possibly even a for-adults series) set in this world.

Other reviews: Sonderbooks; Ex Libris; Q&A with the author at Novel Novice (Part One, Two, Three).

Review: Ashes

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. Egmont USA. Brilliance Audio. 2011. Review copies from publisher. Listened to audio. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren.

The Plot: One minute, Alex is hiking, trying to figure out her future and deal with her past. Sounds typical for a seventeen year old, but her future is complicated by an inoperable brain tumor and her past by the death of her parents four years before.

An electromagnetic pulse changes that.

Suddenly, the world changes.

No electronics are working. Alex find herself responsible for Ellie, an angry eight year old who just saw her grandfather die from the pulse. At first, they think the dangers they face are low supplies, a rough trek to the ranger’s station, and wild dogs.

Then they return into two teenagers. Unlike Alex and Ellie, these kids are changed. They eat flesh. Human flesh.

Alex and Ellie find another survivor, Tom, who hasn’t changed, and band together to figure out what happened and what to do next. Along the way, the encounter other survivors and discover that most teens have become wild flesh-eaters. In response, the surviving seniors are not welcoming towards kids they suspect may change any moment.

Should they head to a big city? Somewhere with less people? Would a military base be safe? Or have any towns survived?

Alex finds herself in the town of Rule, which appears to offer safety. She discovers flesh-eating teens and armed bandits aren’t the only things to worry about.

The Good: So many things!

There is Alex. Her father was a police officer; her mother, a doctor; and both enjoyed camping. The type of camping that meant teaching their only daughter survivalist-type skills: she knows how to make a debris shelter, what to do to make water drinkable, can read maps and knows her way around a gun. If anyone can survive the end of the world as we know it, it’s Alex.

One of the things I liked about at Alex? At times, I didn’t like her. She’s in a hurt, bitter, selfish place at the beginning of the story. Her parents are dead, she’s taken their ashes, her own future is bleak because of the brain tumor, she’s gone through years of treatment, she doesn’t even have a sense of smell anymore. There is more than a hint that she brought her father’s gun with her for more than protection.

When the pulse happens, Alex is thinking of herself, not Ellie, and acts accordingly. Keep in mind, at this point Ellie is challenging her fear, anger and grief into stubborness and whining. In short: she’s a brat. Honestly? At this stage, Alex is so caught up in herself that she doesn’t handle the situation well. That’s OK; she’s only seventeen. An important part of the story is Alex’s own progress from an understandably self-centered teen to someone who thinks about others. It’ s not just that, of course. Whether by her own hand or not, Alex was preparing for death. Now, she’s fighting to stay alive/

Alex and Ellie meet Tom, a young soldier on leave. The situation means Alex begins to think about others: hey, there’s nothing like fighting for survival to bond people together.

Alex’s brain tumor had affected her physically. After the pulse? Those symptoms go away. Not only can she smell; she has a super sense of smell. Is that why she wasn’t turned into a flesh-eater? Why wasn’t Tom? Alex tries to figure it out, based on what she knows of the handful of teens who didn’t change. Tom had nightmares from his time in the middle east; does that mean anything?

About halfway through, the book changes from one of adventurist survival to a different type of survival. Alex finds herself in the town of Rule, a place that has survived fairly intact and safe. She finds out it’s not as safe as it appears to be. I’ll be honest, for some reason I had an easier time believing in the flesh-eating teens than I did in Rule. I understand that society would change because of the pulse, the deaths, the flesh eaters; but it seems like Rule had always been — different. Controlled by a handful of families. Religious, but not quite like any traditional religion. It didn’t help that the story is told from Alex’s point of view, so all I know about Rule is what Alex knows or what she guesses.

The narration is terrific! Kellgren kept me on the edge of my seat. I listen to audiobooks during my commute (roughly an hour each way), and sometimes I had to just sit for a few minutes to calm down.

Ashes is the first book in a trilogy. It ends with a shocking reveal and a “how are you going to get out of this one” cliffhanger. I have a feeling that some of the things that frustrate or confuse me about Rule will be revealed. I can’t wait to read the next book!

Other reviews: Presenting Lenore and GalleySmith Joint Discussion; S. Krishna’s Books; Stacked; The Book Smugglers