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By: Heidi MacDonald
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Dan Scott was born in Surrey, England. Growing up, he became interested in ancient Rome and his love of historical fiction provided plenty of inspiration for the adventure stories he began to write as a child. Eventually, his characters and stories developed into the action-packed Gladiator School series.
Boomtron just published my latest Sandman Meditation, this one on Chapter Two of The Wake.
"Sandman Meditation?" you say. "That sounds ... vaguely familiar..."
In July 2010, I started writing a series of short pieces called Sandman Meditations
in which I proceeded through each issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman
comic and offered whatever thoughts happened to come to mind. The idea was Jay Tomio's, and at first the Meditations were published on his Gestalt Mash site, then later Boomtron
. The basic concept was that we'd see what happened when somebody without much background in comics, who'd never read Sandman
before, spent time reading through it all.
I wrote 71 Meditations between July 2010 and June 2012, getting all the way up through the first installment of the last story in the regular series, The Wake
. 75,000 words.
And then stopped. I read Chapter 2 of The Wake
and had nothing to say. I tried writing through the lack of words, but the more I tried to write the more what I wrote nauseated me. I couldn't go on.
I got through 71 Meditations by only looking back once — in the piece on "Ramadan"
, I misread a word (yes, one word) and completely misunderstood the story. When Neil gently brought the mistake to our attention, I was shocked. So I went back and re-read "Ramadan" and what I'd written about it. Though in the immediate moment, I felt like a total idiot with entire chicken farms of egg on my face, I've come to cherish that mistake, because it showed just how carefully and subtly constructed so much of Sandman
is, and how a simple slip in reading can make a text flip all around. It gave me a certain freedom, too. I'd always been terrified of making some dumb, obvious mistake in my reading of Sandman
, because I know it's so well known by its passionate fans, and I didn't want to either let them down or annoy them. Once I made that big mistake, I felt somehow freer to go wrong, and that kind of freedom is necessary for writing. I went forward, trying hard not to think about whether I was writing well or terribly, thinking well or thinking badly, reading well or reading as if I'd never learned to read at all.
But by the 71st installment, my confidence fell apart. I was terrified that I'd written nothing but drivel, and the weight of that fear pulled me back. Why should anybody want to waste time reading what I've got to say about this?
I wondered. This is a beloved series of comics, a beloved story full of beloved characters, an intricately woven tale that I'm just blundering through blindly.
I couldn't do it.
Eric Schaller kept bugging me. "So are you ever going to finish your Sandman
stuff?" he'd ask, and I'd change the subject.
I figured as more time passed, everybody would forget about my crazy reading experiment.
Jay Tomio remembered. I felt terrible for letting him down. He'd been so supportive, and I'd failed in the end. But he never seemed to hold it against me; he seemed to understand. It had been a long run. Boomtron went through some changes. The Meditations disappeared for a while. Then Jay started reconstructing, and so out of the blue one day I got a note: "Any chance you'd like to continue?" he asked.
I was terrified. A lot had changed. What would it mean to continue?But continue I did, and continue I will.
(I'll finish The Wake
in the coming weeks, then continue on to Endless Nights
. If all goes well, I think it would be fun to finish up with the recent Overture
, to return full circle back to the beginning. Fingers crossed.)
As you'll see from the new piece, I thought of David Beronä
, and I knew exactly what he'd say if he were here for me to ask about it. "Use the time you have," he'd say. "Do it now."
It's nice to be back.
For the past few months, the three library systems of New York City (the New York Public Library, the Queens Library, and the Brooklyn Public Library) have been pushing Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council for an increase in funding. The campaign has proved successful; a $43 million increase has been approved for the Fiscal Year 2016.
More than 150,000 New York library patrons sent in letters to support this cause. Several authors and celebrities also joined in this fight including Newbery Medal winner Neil Gaiman, In the Unlikely Event novelist Judy Blume, Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz, ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, Oscar-nominated actor Ethan Hawke, and Grammy-winning musician John Legend.
According to the press release, this budget increase “will allow for citywide six-day branch service, as well as an increase in hours and programming seats, more expert library staff, and more. The budget — adopted today — also includes a capital allocation of at least $300 million to libraries over 10 years, which will go towards improving, renovating, modernizing, and repairing library facilities across the city. This is the first time libraries have received such a large, long-term investment, allowing them to adequately plan for the future.”
Earlier this year, Starz gave the green light for a TV adaptation based on American Gods. Neil Gaiman, the author behind the book, will not only serve as an executive producer, but also a screenwriter.
Variety.com reports that fellow executive producer Bryan Fuller confirmed that Gaiman will write several episodes. When the announcement about the TV show was first made, Gaiman expressed that he feels “relieved and confident that my baby is in good hands.\"
Here’s more from Deadline.com: “The 2001 novel concerns a brewing war between old and new gods, with traditional gods from myth and religions steadily losing believers to deities that reflect more modern concerns, such as love of money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs. The book centers on Shadow Moon, an ex-con hired as a bodyguard by one of those older gods trying to push back against the new gods’ successes.”
What is the secret to a story with longevity? Author Neil Gaiman spoke about this subject during a seminar for The Long Now Foundation.
Gaiman argues that stories are alive. He feels that like all living beings, stories evolve over time; he also argues that human beings need stories which is why they tend to pass them down generation to generation.
Follow this link to listen to a SoundCloud clip that features Gaiman’s talk in its entirety. How old is your favorite story? (via brain pickings)
By Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Charles Vess
I’ve heard this book compared to Dr. Seuss’s book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Tons of this Dr. Seuss title are sold this time of year, I hear, as a traditional gift for grads going into the wide, wide world. It’s a shrinking world and a shape shifting one that the newly minted diploma and degree conferred upon are riding into, after years in the “groves of academe.”
But Neil Gaiman’s small-sized book with the subtitle of “Everything you’ll need to know on the journey” may be small in size, but it’s filled with as terse a wisdom as the Brothers Grimm stories.
With its gorgeous illustrations by Charles Vess of a fairy tale landscape, it opens with the simple request to say “Please” before you open the latch to the path that beckons. This simple set of directives is so clear, so true, so humanely appealing:
“If any creature tells you that it hungers,
If it tells you that it is dirty,
If it cries to you that it hurts,
ease its pain.”
The puss in boots wanderer is told, when he stands at the top of a deep well, that if he opts to turn back at this critical point, “you can walk back safely; you will lose no face. I will think no less of you.”
He is told that “dragons have one soft spot”, “hearts can be well hidden” and not to lose hope…”what you seek will be found.”
Trust your heart
and trust your story.”
The unassuming advice of “Do not forget your manners”is mixed with much deeper assurances in the suggestion, “Do not look back.”
But the ending is very reminiscent of Dorothy’s journey in “The Wizard of Oz”:
“When you reach the little house
the place your journey started,
you will recognize it, although it will seem
much smaller than you remember.”
“And then go home
And make a home.
Neil Gaiman has written a fairy tale for those on a journey this summer, this year, and this lifetime.
Enjoy the book and the ride. Trust yourself in that, as someone wise once said, you can be in the world, what you want to see there.
Starz has given the greenlight for a TV adaptation based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods.
Here’s more from Variety.com: “Starz said series production would be contingent on casting of the lead role, Shadow Moon, in the saga about a war between traditional gods from mythology and contemporary, materialistic deities. Shadow Moon is an ex-con and bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday, an older god in the guise of a conman.”
According to the press release, Gaiman has been brought on as an executive producer; the author has publicly declared that he feels “relieved and confident that my baby is in good hands.” He will be joined by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green who will serve as both executive producers and showrunners. Deadline.com reports that “Fuller recently was quoted as saying that two scripts have been completed along with illustrations demonstrating his and Green’s vision for the show.” (via ComicBookResources.com)
By: Heidi MacDonald
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Fans of the Sandman scribe rejoice: Starz announced today that they have officially green lit an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s New York Times bestselling novel American Gods. Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Heroes) is officially attached, as is Michael Green (Heroes). Both will serve as writers and showrunners. Gaiman will serve as executive producer. FreemantleMedia North America, who has been developing the series for some time, is also attached to produce. Starz has noted that the start of production on the television series, which Gaiman has been talking about for the past few years, hinges on the casting of Shadow Moon. Shadow, a sympathetic ex-con with a penchant for coin tricks, is the central character in Gaiman’s strange tale of old Gods brought to America in the hearts of those who immigrated and their battle with the Gods of modern America like Media and the Internet.
Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said, “STARZ is committed to bring American Gods to its legions of fans. With our partners at FremantleMedia and with Bryan, Michael and Neil guiding the project, we hope to create a series that honors the book and does right by the fans, who have been casting it in their minds for years. The search for Shadow begins today!”
Gaiman said: “I am thrilled, scared, delighted, nervous and a ball of glorious anticipation. The team that is going to bring the world of American Gods to the screen has been assembled like the master criminals in a caper movie: I’m relieved and confident that my baby is in good hands. Now we finally move to the exciting business that fans have been doing for the last dozen years: casting our Shadow, our Wednesday, our Laura…”
“Almost 15 years ago, Neil Gaiman filled a toy box with gods and magic and we are thrilled to finally crack it open and play,” said Fuller and Green, “we’re grateful to have STARZ above us and FremantleMedia at our backs as we appease the gods, American or otherwise.”
Starz has encouraged fans of the novel to tweet @AmericanGodsSTZ and @STARZ_Channel using the hashtag #CastingShadow to share who they think should play the role of Shadow.
Writer Neil Gaiman has unveiled the cover for the sixth and final issue of the Sandman: Overture series. Comics artist J. H. Williams III created this piece.
We’ve embedded the full image for the jacket design above—what do you think? Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, has set the publication date for September 30th. (via Neil Gaiman’s Facebook page)
Have you ever seen an American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation of one of your favorite poems? The video embedded above features a YouTuber known as “Crom Saunders” signing Neil Gaiman’s piece, “The Day the Saucers Came.”
This poem can be found in the 2006 collection, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. Gaiman himself shared this video on his Facebook page with the comment: “This is rather wonderful…”
A group of high-profile celebrities and authors have come together to advocate for the library systems of New York. Each participant has signed their name to a letter calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio and city council members to increase the funding for the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library.
Some of the entertainers who took part include ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, Oscar-nominated actor Ethan Hawke, and Grammy-winning musician John Legend. Some of the writers who took part include Newbery Medal winner Neil Gaiman, In the Unlikely Event novelist Judy Blume, Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz, Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, and historian Stacy Schiff.
Here’s an excerpt: “New York City’s libraries offer inspiring programs, welcoming staff, and safe spaces for people of all ages, as well as free access to technology and, of course, millions of books. Libraries are the great equalizers…Now is the time to restore $65 million in operating funding for libraries, and to invest $1.4 billion in capital funding over the next decade to repair and renovate our 217 neighborhood branches. It’s time for New York City to Invest in Libraries.”
Trigger Warning author Neil Gaiman shared a beautiful friendship with the late Sir Terry Pratchett. During a conversation event with The Guardian books editor Claire Armitstead, he reminisced about one of his favorite memories with Pratchett. Click here to watch a video that features Gaiman recalling one of the last “out of the blue” conversations he had with Pratchett.
Since Pratchett’s passing, the world has been in mourning. Not too long ago, an anonymous graffiti artist painted a mural to honor Pratchett in London. Several authors have spoken out including The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood, Old Man’s War series author John Scalzi, and Little Brother author Cory Doctorow.
The cover has been unveiled for the new U.K. edition of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. We’ve embedded the full image for the jacket design above—what do you think?
This book, the author’s preferred text, features 10,000 more words (compared to the first edition published in the United States), a special introduction from Gaiman himself, and a new novelette called How the Marquis Got His Coat Back. HarperCollins has set the publication date for July 28th. (via Neil Gaiman’s Facebook page)
The Telegraph has posted Neil Gaiman’s short story, “Click-clack the Rattlebag,” online.
This piece can be found in Gaiman’s collection, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances. William Morrow, an imprint at HarperCollins, published the book back in February 2015.
Here’s an excerpt: “‘Before you take me up to bed, will you tell me a story?’ ‘Do you actually need me to take you up to bed?’ I asked the boy. He thought for a moment. Then, with intense seriousness, ‘Yes, actually I think you do. It’s because of, I’ve finished my homework, and so it’s my bedtime, and I am a bit scared. Not very scared. Just a bit.'” (via Neil Gaiman’s Facebook page)
Atonement novelist Ian McEwan gave a commencement address at the graduation ceremony for Dickinson College’s class of 2015. McEwan spoke to the students about freedom of expression; he urged these newly minted graduates to do their part to preserve this important right. The video embedded above features McEwan delivering his speech.
Time.com has posted McEwan’s piece in its entirety. Here’s an excerpt: “It’s worth remembering this: freedom of expression sustains all the other freedoms we enjoy. Without free speech, democracy is a sham. Every freedom we possess or wish to possess (of habeas corpus and due process, of universal franchise, and of assembly , union representation, sexual equality, of sexual preference, of the rights of children, of animals—the list goes on) has to be freely thought and talked and written into existence.”
In the past, a great number of authors have delivered moving commencement speeches. Coraline writer Neil Gaiman’s 2012 “Make Good Art” talk went viral. Harry Potter series author J.K. Rowling’s 2008 “Very Good Lives” talk has drawn more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.
Here are some literary events to pencil in your calendar this week.
To get your event posted on our calendar, visit our Facebook Your Literary Event page. Please post your event at least one week prior to its date.
Four writers will appear at the final Pen Parentis gathering of the season. Check it out on Tuesday, May 12th starting 7 p.m. (New York, NY)
Jules Feiffer and Neil Gaiman will headline a conversation at the 92Y. Meet them on Thursday, May 14th starting 7 p.m. (New York, NY)
Six children’s books creators will participate in a “Picture Books with Animals” panel at Books of Wonder. Join in on Saturday, May 16th from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (New York, NY)
This announcement is somewhat confusing, but so is the entire legacy of Miracleman, one of the most interesting heroes that Marvel has ever published. First off, the run with The Original Writer (Alan Moore) has come to an end with issue #16 that Marvel started printing after they acquired the rights to the character again. Instead of just continuing the book, the publisher has decided to renumber the title starting with Neil Gaiman’s first issue #17 and changing it to Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #1.
However, the news does not stop yet, at C2E2’s Marvel Next Big Thing panel, the run with Gaiman (drawn by Fables artist Mark Buckingham) was announced to debut September 2015. The original comic ended before the run came to an end with Miracleman #24. There were originally only seven issues of the tale, but Marvel is now attempting to publish the rest of the saga written by Gaiman.
Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether there are any issues done, or whether Gaiman and Buckingham could perhaps start creating material with the character? Marvel already scraped Grant Morrison material from the vault with All-New Miracleman #1. Who’s to say they can’t publish more? Thanks to CBR for originally reporting on the news — and thanks to Miracleman for being one of the most interesting and convoluted characters in comics both in front of and behind-the-scenes of comics history.
For an incredible history lesson on the birth and death of Miracleman, take a look at our own Poison Chalice pieces.
Author Neil Gaiman had a huge amount of respect for how his friend, the late Terry Pratchett responded to a diagnosis with early onset rear brain alzheimer’s in 2007.
In a recent discussion about Pratchett with author Michael Chabon, Gaiman said: “He did something huge and noble, which was after his diagnosis, he went public and he went loud. He risked being trivialized.”
Here is an excerpt from the discussion:
Terry was someone who fought for years to get people to understand that funny and serious are not opposites. The opposite of funny is not funny. You can absolutely be funny and serious at the same time and Terry was.
So here is somebody who has fought to be taken seriously and to make people realize that you can write a serious novel set in a fantasy context on the back of elephants on the back a giant turtle floating through space and it can still be a real novel and he’s got there. He’s won the Carnegie Medal. He’s got serious critical attention and now he risks losing it, but he did. He announced it to the world and he used it to an opportunity to start the dialog.
(Via Electric Literature).
By: James Preller,
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“The writer whose words are going to be read by children
has a heavy responsibility. And yet, despite the undeniable fact
that the children’s minds are tender, they are also far more tough
than many people realize, and they have an openness
and an ability to grapple with difficult concepts
which many adults have lost.”
– Madeleine L’Engle
Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of disturbing readers.
Shaking them up.
In fact, I believe that many readers, consciously or unconsciously, crave the experience.
When I think about personal growth — perhaps in viewing my own three children — I imagine that it can be characterized by periods of equilibrium, followed by passages of disequilibrium, followed (hopefully) by a new, higher level of equilibrium.
Comfort, discomfort, growth.
I came to understand some of this through my experience writing my first “horror” series, Scary Tales, for young readers. I placed horror in quotes because, well, it’s not that scary; nobody gets hurt, everything turns out okay in the end. Every time. But, sure, there are some clammy palpitations along the way.
I often visit schools and the response to “scary” in grades 3-5, particularly, is wildly enthusiastic. Kids love this creepy stuff with its twisting plots, and they have long before I ever entered the scene. But I’ve also learned that there is a lot of fear out there — from adults. The redoubtable gatekeepers. A question I’ll hear at Book Festivals: “Will this book give my child nightmares?”
Of course, I don’t know the answer to that. How should I respond?
Okay, I’m a parent. I get it, mostly. We don’t want our kids to wake up screaming, scared out of their minds. And to that end, we don’t want to irresponsibly expose them to content that might be developmentally inappropriate. Well, a caveat there: Most people have no problem, bizarrely, with “inappropriate” content if it’s on TV or a movie. Even something as cherished as the Harry Potter books and movies — where characters are murdered, and the stories get continually darker as agents of pure evil plot death and destruction. Everybody is fine with that! But a story about a kid trapped in a cave with bats? Or unfriendly snowmen guarding a castle? Or a swamp monster?
Those things might prove . . . upsetting.
And here’s the thing: Maybe we like scary stories exactly because of that disturbance. On some deep level, maybe even unconsciously, we want to be disturbed. Because we know that it is necessary to our growth.
What does the reader learn, after losing her balance, when she discovers, Whew, I’m actually okay. I survived this.
Might there be value in that discovery?
I recently got a letter from an 8th-grade reader who was disturbed by a scene in my middle-grade novel, Bystander, where a boy, Eric, gets beaten up. It upset his sense of fairness. In the letter-writer’s mind, “Eric was being very friendly,” and he “didn’t deserve to get beat up.”
The scene bothered this reader. It shook him up a little. A part of him preferred that it didn’t exist at all.
And I think, well, good. It was supposed to do that. It was designed to make you feel something. These are the troubling scenes we remember our entire lives.
Speaking of scary, how about the Teletubbies in black and white?
Now I’m not talking about pure shock, artlessly rendered. The head lopped off and bouncing, boing-boing-boing, down the carpeted staircase. Though, I guess, that might have value too. I’m talking about the fiendish clown in Stephen King’s It. Or the heartbreaking moment of when Travis is forced to shoot his rabid dog in Old Yeller. The moments that give us dis-ease.
I think that’s one of the things that good books can do for us. They disturb our tranquility a little bit. Which is also why, an aside, this entire notion of eliminating “trigger books” in the college curriculum is so misguided. The notion is that some people might be upset if they encounter certain kinds of things, or triggers, in assigned books: a mother with cancer, a rape, social prejudice, world hunger, whatever their personal trigger might be. Some believe that students should be warned about these triggers, in the hope of avoiding them.
We wouldn’t want anyone to be upset.
And I think: Good luck with that.
And also: Isn’t that kind of the point?
Illustration by Iacopo Bruno, from Scary Tales: One-eyed Doll.
When I’m not writing Scary Tales, which is most of the time, I tend to write realistic fiction. My books have included childhood cancer, fistfights, bullying, suicide, lost pets, and car accidents. Scary stuff, life.
A book, of course, is a safe way for a child or adult to address different fears. A book can be mastered. A book can be closed. It can, simply, not be read at all. Or put aside to be read another day when the reader feels prepared. And then, on that day, guess what? The reader miraculously survives. Calm is restored.
“Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses. You ride the ghost train into the darkness, knowing that eventually the doors will open and you will step out into the daylight once again. It’s always reassuring to know that you’re still here, still safe. That nothing strange has happened, not really. It’s good to be a child again, for a little while, and to fear — not governments, not regulations, not infidelities or accountants or distant wars, but ghosts and such things that don’t exist, and even if they do, can do nothing to hurt us.”
– Neil Gaiman
By: James Preller,
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I have long followed and respected the work of author Cynthia DeFelice, who over the past 25 years has put together an expansive and impressive body of work. No bells, no whistles, no fancy pyrotechnics. Just one well-crafted book after another. There’s not an ounce of phony in Cynthia; she’s the genuine article, the real magilla. Last November, I was pleased to run into Cynthia at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival. Pressed for time, we chatted easily about this and that, then parted ways. But I wanted more. Thus, this conversation . . . I’m sure you’ll like Cynthia almost as much as her dog does.
Greetings, Cynthia. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this conversation. I feel like we have so much to talk about. We first met sometime in the early 90s, back when Frank Hodge, a bookseller in Albany, was putting on his elaborate, gushing children’s book conferences.
It’s nice to be in touch with you again. I’ll always remember those conferences with Frank Hodge. He made me feel validated as a fledgling writer. He left me a voice mail telling me how much he loved the book Weasel. I played it over and over and over! In 1992, the Hodge-Podge Society gave the first ever Hodge-Podge Award to Weasel. It meant the world to me. Those were great times for authors, teachers, kids, and for literature.
Frank forced me to read your book — and I loved it. So I’ll always be grateful to Frank for that; it’s important to have those people in your world, the sharers, the ones who press books into your hands and say, “You must read this!”
Well, good for Frank! He is definitely one of those people you’re talking about. His enthusiasm is infectious.
We’ve seen many changes over the past 25 years. For example, a year or two ago I participated in a New York State reading conference in Albany for educators. The building was abuzz with programs about “Common Core” strategies & applications & assessments & implementation techniques and ZZZZZzzzzz. (Sorry, dozed off for a minute!) Anyway, educators were under tremendous pressure to roll this thing out — even when many sensed disaster. Meanwhile, almost out of habit, organizers invited authors to attend, but they placed us in a darkened corridor in the back. Not next to the Dumpster, but close. At one point I was with Susan Beth Pfeffer, who writes these incredible books, and nobody was paying attention to her. This great writer was sitting there virtually ignored.
To your point about finding fabulous authors being ignored at conferences, I hear you. It can be a very humbling experience. I find that teachers aren’t nearly as knowledgeable about books and authors as they were 10-25 years ago, and not as interested. They aren’t encouraged in that direction, and they don’t feel they have the time for what is considered to be non-essential to the goal of making sure their kids pass the tests. Thankfully, there are exceptions! You and I both still hear from kids and teachers for whom books are vital, important, and exhilarating.
But, yes, I agree with you completely that literature is being shoved to the side. Teachers tell me they have to sneak in reading aloud when no one is watching or listening.
When I was invited to speak at a dinner, along with Adam Gidwitz and the great Joe Bruchac, I felt compelled to put in a good word for . . . story. You know, remind everybody that books matter. In today’s misguided rush for “informational units of text,” I worry that test-driven education is pushing literature to the side. The powers that be can’t easily measure the value of a book — it’s impossible to reduce to bubble tests — so their solution is to ignore fiction completely. Sorry for the rant, but I’m so frustrated with the direction of education today.
Well, it’s hard not to rant. It’s disconcerting to think how we’ve swung so far from those heady days of “Whole Language” to today’s “Common Core” curriculum — about as far apart as two approaches can be. I think the best approach lies somewhere in the vast middle ground between the two, and teachers need to be trusted to use methods as varied as the kids they work with every day.
On a recent school visit in Connecticut, I met a second-year librarian — excuse me, media specialist — who was instructed by her supervisor to never read aloud to the students. It wasn’t perceived as a worthwhile use of her time.
Well, that is sad and just plain ridiculous. I was a school librarian for 8 ½ years. I felt the most important part of my job was reading aloud to kids
I didn’t realize you were a librarian.
Yes, I began as a school librarian. But, really, my life as a writer began when I was a child listening to my mother read aloud. And every crazy job I had before I became a librarian (and there were a lot) helped to form and inform me as a writer. This is true of us all. I had an actual epiphany one day while I was a librarian. I looked up from a book I was reading aloud and saw the faces of a class of kids who were riveted to every word… I saw their wide eyes, their mouths hanging open, their bodies taut and poised with anticipation – I was seeing full body participation in the story that was unfolding. I thought: I want to be the person who makes kids look and feel like THAT.
And that’s exactly who you became. Which is incredible. This can be a tough and discouraging business; I truly hope you realize how much you’ve accomplished.
Thanks, and back at you on that. I think we have to constantly remind ourselves that what we do is important. I think we’ve all had the experience of being scorned because we write for children. The common perception is that we write about fuzzy bunnies who learn to share and to be happy with who they are.
I loved your recent blog post about the importance of books that disturb us. I’m still amazed when I hear from a teacher or parent –- and occasionally even a young reader –- saying they didn’t like a book or a scene from a book because of something upsetting that happened in it. Conflict is the essence of fiction! No conflict, no story (or, worse, a boring, useless one). I love my characters, and I hate to make them go through some of the experiences they have, but it’s got to be done! Did I want Stewpot to die in Nowhere to Call Home? Did I want Weasel to have cut out Ezra’s tongue and killed his wife and unborn baby? Did I want Erik to have to give up the dog Quill at the end of Wild Life? These things hurt, and yet we see our characters emerge from the dark forests we give them to walk through, coming out stronger and wiser. We all need to hear about such experiences, over and over again, in order to have hope in the face of our own trials.
I admire all aspects of your writing, but in particular your sense of pace; your stories click along briskly. They don’t feel rushed, there’s real depth, but there’s always a strong forward push to the narrative. How important is that to you?
I love beautiful writing, I love imagery and metaphor, and evocative language. But all that must be in service to story, or I am impatient with it. I don’t like show-offy writing.
The ego getting in the way.
Yes. Even the best writers need an editor to keep that ego in check! I seek clarity — what good is writing that obscures and obfuscates? The purpose is to communicate, to say what you mean. That goes for all kinds of writing, not just writing for kids. Kids want to get to the point. So do I.
Can you name any books or authors that were important to your development as a writer? Or is that an impossible question to answer?
Impossible. Because there are too many, and if I made a list I would inevitably leave out a person or book I adore. Safer to say that every book I’ve read -– the good, the bad, and the ugly –- all are in there somewhere, having an effect on my own writing.
You are what you eat. Also, your love of nature — the great outdoors! — infuses everything you write.
Nature and the great outdoors, yes. My love of these things will always be a big part of my writing. I find that after a lifetime of experience and reading and exploring, I know a lot about the natural world, and it’s fun to include that knowledge in my writing. Sometimes I worry that kids are being cut off from the real world. But I do know lots of kids who love animals and trees and flowers and bugs, love to hunt and fish, to mess around in ponds and streams, build forts, paddle canoes, collect fossils — you name it. They give me hope for the future.
Where do you live?
On and sometimes in (during the floods of 1972 and 1993) Seneca Lake in beautiful upstate New York.
Is that where you’re from?
Nope. I grew up in the suburbs of northeast Philly. I came up here to go to college and never left.
Your books often feature boy characters. Why do you think that’s so?
You’re right: more than half of my main characters are boys. I’m not sure why. And I don’t know why I feel so perfectly comfortable writing in the voice of a 10-11-12 year old boy. Maybe because my brothers and I were close and we did a lot together? Maybe because my husband still has a lot of boyish enthusiasm? At any rate, I am crazy about pre-adolescent boys, their goofiness and earnestness and heedlessness. My new book (coming out in May) is called Fort
. It features two boys, Wyatt and Augie (age 11) who build a fort together during summer vacation. I had so much fun writing it. (I have to admit, I love when I crack myself up, and these guys just make me laugh.)
While writing, are you conscious about the gender gap in reading? This truism that “boys don’t read.”
I am. Sometimes I am purposely writing for that reluctant reader, who is so often a boy. I love nothing so much as hearing that one of my books was THE ONE that turned a kid around, that made him a reader.
I just read Signal, so that book is on my mind today. I had to smile when Owen gets into the woods and his phone doesn’t work. No wi-fi. It’s funny to me because in my “Scary Tales” series I always have to do the same thing. If we want to instill an element of danger, there has to be a sense of isolation that doesn’t seem possible in today’s hyper-connected world. “What? Zombie hordes coming over the rise? I’ll call Mom to pick us up in her SUV!” So we always need to get the parents out of the way and somehow disable the wi-fi. You didn’t have that problem back when you wrote Weasel.
Thanks for reading Signal
. And, yeah, it’s really annoying that in order to be plausible in this day and age, you have to have a reason why your character isn’t on the phone with Mommy every time something goes wrong. (Another good reason to write historical fiction!) In Fort
, Augie lives with his grandmother and doesn’t have money for a cell phone, and Wyatt’s with his father for the summer. His parents are divorced, and (unlike Mom) Dad doesn’t believe in kids being constantly connected to an electronic nanny. So — halleluiah! Wyatt and Augie are free to do all the fun, dumb, and glorious things they feel like doing!
My friends and I built a fort in the woods when we were in high school. Good times, great memories, just hanging out unfettered and free. I included a fort in my book, Along Came Spider. For Trey and Spider, the book’s main characters, the fort represented a refuge. It was also a haven for their friendship away from the social pressures and cliques of school. A place in nature where they could be themselves. So, yes, I love that you wrote a book titled Fort. I’ll add it to my list! (You are becoming an expensive friend.)
Well, now that I’ve discovered your books, I can say the same. Money well spent, I’d say.
Where did the idea for Signal originate?
The inspiration for Signal came one morning as I was running on a trail through the woods with Josie, my dog at the time. She proudly brought me a white napkin with red stuff smeared on it. I thought, Whoa, is that blood? No, whew. Ketchup. But what if it had been blood? And what if a kid was running with his dog and she brought him pieces of cloth with blood stains? Eww. That would be creepy! And scary, and exciting, and mysterious — and I started writing Signal.
You’ve always been extremely well-reviewed. Readers love your books. And yet in this day of series and website-supported titles, where everything seems to be high-concept, it feels like the stand-alone middle grade novel is an endangered species.
I have been lucky with reviews. But, sadly, I think traditional review sources are becoming increasingly irrelevant, as blogs and websites and personal media platforms take over. That’s not good news for me because I am simply not interested in self-promotion. Can’t do it. Don’t want to do it. I just want to write the best books I can and let them speak for themselves. I know it’s old-school, but there it is. You said that a stand-alone middle grade novel is becoming an endangered species amid all the series and “high concept” books out there, and I think you’re right. But when that stand-alone book somehow finds its niche audience, when kids and teachers somehow discover it and embrace it as theirs . . . , well, it’s a beautiful damn thing, and it’s enough to keep me writing, for now.
Well, my husband is 9 years older than I am and recently retired, and there are a lot of things we still need to do!
We have a farm property we are improving by digging a pond, and by planting trees and foliage to benefit wildlife. We stocked it with fish, and enjoy watching it attract turtles, frogs, toads, dragonflies, birds and animals of all sorts. So we like to spend a lot of time there, camping out. We love to travel, and are headed next on a self-driving tour of Iceland. We also have four terrific grandchildren we like to spend time with. I could go on and on with the bucket list…
By the way, I agree about the blogs. I think we are seeing a lot more opinion — more reaction — but less deep critical thought. It’s fine and useful for a neighbor to tell you they hated or loved a movie, but it’s not the same as a professional film critic providing an informed, and hopefully insightful, critique. Yet somehow today it’s all conflated.
Well, there is a similar phenomenon with self-published books. I’m not a total snob about it, and there are plenty of good books that didn’t go through the process of being accepted by and edited by a professional at an established publishing house. But I’ll repeat that everyone needs an editor. And I’m often amazed at the brazenness of people spouting off in various social media platforms, often without being fully grounded in the subject they are pontificating about. But, hey, maybe I’m just getting to be an old fart.
Yeah, I don’t Tweet either. We’re being left in the dust! My observation is that the “kidlitosphere” is comprised 90% of women. Of course, many of those bloggers are passionate, smart, generous women who genuinely want to see boys reading. But I always think of a favorite line written by one of my heroes, Charlotte Zolotow, where a boy imagines his father telling his mother, “You never were a boy. You don’t know.”
I don’t think it’s an ideal thing that the blogging world — which has become such an important source of information about books — is overwhelmingly female. Of course, the situation is not at all their fault.
That’s why it’s so great that there are writers out there like you, Bruce Coville, Tedd Arnold, Jon Scieska, Neil Gaiman, Jack Gantos –- who not only write books boys like, but are out there in schools demonstrating that REAL MEN read and write! I don’t know what we can do about the gender gap other than to be aware of it and to write the best books we can, books that both boys and girls will devour.
Tell me about Wild Life. Once again, you are mining the world of adventure — a boy, a dog, and a gun.
I never got as much mail from kids, teachers, grandparents and other caregivers as I did after that book came out. In our hyper-politically correct world, GUNS = EVIL. You can’t talk about them in school. So where does that leave a kid who spends his or her weekend hunting, who studies nature in order to be part of it, who hunts respectfully, with care, who is enmeshed in family history and tradition, who through hunting feels part of the full complexity of life?
I had to keep silencing the censors in my head telling me I couldn’t put a gun in an 11 year old kid’s hands, unless it was a matter of survival in a book set back in “the olden days.”
I was amazed and immensely gratified to learn that a lot of kids found themselves and their interests represented in Erik’s story. I didn’t write it with an agenda in mind. I simply wrote it based on the experiences I’ve had when my husband and I take our bird dog on her yearly Dream Vacation to North Dakota to hunt pheasants.
Ha! I love that your dog has a Dream Vacation.
I get so much joy from watching her do what she was born and bred to do. I cherish our days out on those wide open prairies, and have learned to see the subtle and varied beauty of the landscape. I was just hoping to write a rip-roaring good story that incorporated all that wonderful stuff. Our hunting experiences have nothing whatsoever to do with “gun violence” of the sort you hear about on TV. It’s been interesting to hear from kids who really get that.
Yeah, I enjoy meeting those kids, often out in the western end of New York State. One of my readers from the North Country sent me this photo. Isn’t she great?
Oh, man, I love that! We can’t forget those kids are out there.
What’s next, Cynthia? Any new books on the horizon?
Possibly, just possibly, a sequel to Fort. But that’s all I will say, even if you use enhanced interrogation techniques.
We do not waterboard here at Jamespreller dot com, and I resent the implication! Those are merely bath toys that happen to be . . . nevermind!
According to the rules of the interwebs, I see that we’ve gone way beyond the approved length of standard posts. Likely there’s no one left reading. It’s just us. So I’ll end here with a big thank you, Cynthia, for putting up with me. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I hope I’ll see you again in Rochester at the 19th Annual Children’s Book Festival.
Yes! I look forward to seeing you there. It’s an incredible event, and gets bigger and better every year.
The classic story of Dracula
, by Bram Stoker, originally published in 1887, has had a long, and continuing run with readers of fiction--or was it even fiction? In the 2008 special edition by W. W. Norton, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman, and annotated by Leslie S. Klinger, we read in the preface by Klinger:
My principal aim...has been to restore a sense of wonder, excitement, and sheer fun to this great work. To that end, perhaps for the first time, I examine Stoker's published compilation of letters, journals, and recordings as Stoker wished: I employ a gentle fiction here, as I did in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, that the events described in Dracula "really took place" and that the work presents the recollections of real persons, whom Stoker has renamed and whose papers (termed the "Harker Papers" in my notes) he has recast, ostensibly to conceal their identities.
As Stoker wished. What did that entire sentence above actually mean?
I have been reading this book as the Feb - April quarterly selection of a Goodreads-Ireland discussion group. I saw the Bela Lugosi movie many years ago, and have been more than a little surprised by the popular interest in all things 'vampire' over the past decade--Anne Rice's books, TV series like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," lots of YA novels, etc. However, I had not previously been drawn to read anything in the genre. Once I decided to read this volume, I just glossed over the preface and introduction and waded into Stoker's originally published manuscript. I liked the writing and the story quite well, and at first I mostly ignored the numerous annotations made by Klinger on almost every page. The story flowed well and was quite mysterious. However, as the plot unfolded through the Transylvania region, I began referring to the annotations, many of them quite informative, but kept noticing earnest arguments for and against the veracity of certain events and geography. It began to seem like Klinger was taking care to point out things that did not match some real, but little known history of the vampire, Dracula.
As the story progresses, and Dracula makes his way to England, his depredations become more ghoulish. Klinger's notes begin to compare the attacks of the vampire, and the countering strategies employed by the four men and one woman opposing Dracula, contrasted with previously known folklore, or testaments as to the powers and habits of vampires. The reader begins to be seduced into believing there might be a quasi-historical foundation for vampirism. However, the 'fictional dream' state necessary to sustain good fiction suffers somewhat whenever the reader's attention is drawn from the flow and suspense of the storyline to check on what Klinger has to say about events. Sometimes what he has to say has a strong rational skepticism--like when Professor Van Helsing makes on-the-spot transfusions of blood to one of Dracula's victims on three separate mornings, using different volunteer donors each time from among the men. Klinger remarks how fortunate that these transfusions were all successful:
Truly remarkable doctoring. Although the science of blood transfusing was still in its infancy, there was some understanding that compatibility of donor and recipient was important. Having transfused Lucy twice successfully (by blind luck), Van Helsing rolls the dice a third time, risking serious problems, rather than fall back on a tested donor.
Klinger's point seems valid, but it seems unlikely that the "blind luck" aspect would otherwise have jumped out at the reader enough to disrupt a continuity of the 'fictional dream'. Other critical annotations might question distances traveled in elapsed time periods, conflicting dates of diary entries, etc., unethical legal behavior of the solicitor, Jonathan Harker, credulousness of Professor Van Helsing, criticisms of Helsing's dialect (I disliked it, too) etc. However, many such items were not likely to cause the reader too much difficulty in staying with the story. There were only a few items pointing out an inconsistency in the powers available to the vampire which might have given me some pause even without the annotation.
I liked the overall story line and wished I'd read it through completely before looking at any annotations. However, once I had discovered the annotations referring repeatedly to differences or agreements with the "Harker Papers," which I'd been alerted to in Klinger's preface before starting the story, I felt I needed to stay aware of how they fit into the scheme of things. At the end, however, I realized the "Harker Papers" were a fictional construct of Klinger. He wanted to suggest that the events of Dracula
really took place, and that this was "as Stoker wished."
The actual documentation left by Stoker for his conceptualization and writing of the Dracula novel are a collection of Notes
, prepared circa 1890-1896, and held by the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and an interim manuscript prepared sometime prior to the published version of 1897. The interim manuscript is currently held by a private owner, Mr. Paul G. Allen. Klinger had reviewed all of these documents for the annotated volume published by Norton. It appears the "Harker Papers" are only a terminology used by him for interviews we are to presume were made by Stoker with real people, and who were involved in real events described in Dracula
. Klinger suggests that the existing Notes
were subsequently prepared from those interviews, after changing names to protect identities of the real people. An original set of "Harker Papers" predating Stoker's Notes are thus Klinger's "gentle fiction."
The idea of the interviews suggested by Klinger are not so far-fetched, however. The creative process followed by Bram Stoker employs typical elements that some, if not most, writers might consider in developing such a novel. The concept is the usual first step, followed perhaps by an outline. Not all writers will employ the outline, preferring to give the first draft free rein without any such constraint. However, before starting a first draft, some writers will conduct a written interview, as if it actually happened, with one or more of their main characters. Such a process can help a writer find a unique 'voice' and personality for a character, and how they might be disposed to act, given the tensions anticipated in playing out the concept of the story. Thus, the idea proposed by Klinger that a collection of interviews of real people by Stoker actually fits as a conceivable step in the writing of Dracula
It is recommended to read the story through at least once without reference to the annotations, to enjoy the full mystery and atmosphere of a compelling story, and then enjoy reading it again with reference to the annotations by Klinger. Many are rich in content, others perhaps a little carping, but writers will appreciate both Stoker's, and Klinger's, feats of imagination; first in the creation, and secondly in heightening, the mystery of Dracula
Rumors have been swirling that HarperCollins may enter into a dispute with Amazon.
Here’s more from BusinessInsider: “The contract presented to HarperCollins was the same contract recently signed by Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan, our source says. If HarperCollins and Amazon don’t come to an agreement, no print or digital HarperCollins books will be available on Amazon once its current contract runs out ‘very soon,’ our source says.”
Last year, Hachette Book Group USA had to deal with a similar issue. The publisher was locked in battle with the internet retail giant due to disagreements over eBook pricing. Several authors spoke out about the situation including Trigger Warning author Neil Gaiman, The Fault in Our Stars author John Green, and David & Goliath author Malcolm Gladwell. (via GeekWire.com)
Author Neil Gaiman posted on Tumblr that he plans to devote the end of this year and the entirety of 2016 to a new writing project.
In response to one fan’s question about whether or not he will produce “another novel a la Neverwhere/Stardust/AG/Anansi Boys,” Gaimain revealed that he plans to work on “another chunky adult novel.”
Gaiman (pictured, via) has been keeping busy by giving the 2015 Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture, participating in an interview for a BBC Radio documentary on Ursula K. Le Guin, and joining the Council of the Society of Authors.
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, MWD theme - Trees
, Picture Books
, 'Branching Across the World: Trees in Multicultural Children's Literature
, A Mercy
, AG Ford
, American Gods
, Barry Moser
, Big Jabe
, Cara Black
, children's books about trees
, Christmas in the Time of Billy Lee
, Colin Bootman
, David Catrow
, E. B. Lewis
, Elise Primavera
, Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary
, Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm
, Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life
, In My Momma's Kitchen
, Irene's Wish
, Jerdine Nolen
, Kadir Nelson
, Karen Lee Schmidt
, Lauren McGill's Pickle Museum
, Mark Buehner
, Max and Jax in Second Grade
, Murder in the Rue de Paradis
, MWD interview
, Neil Gaiman
, Paul Laurence Dunbar
, Paula Wiseman Books
, Pitching in for Eubie
, Plantzilla Goes to Camp
, Raising Dragons
, Shadra Strickland
, Simon & Schuster
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, Thunder Rose
, Toni Morrison
, Zora Neale Hurston
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By: Marjorie Coughlan,
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Award-winning author Jerdine Nolen‘s picture books often tell stories that blend fantasy and realism in an unsettling way that delights young readers and fires their imaginations, from her first book Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm, which was made into a … Continue reading ...