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1. On Humility

I know a tiny handful of people who have not the tiniest speck of humility or modesty and—this is the important part—are not obnoxious. They are good people.

What they have is a sense of their own worth and talents that is directly proportional to those talents and worth. They do not sell themselves short, nor do they overestimate their abilities. They have the self confidence and belief to neither indulge in false modesty nor to be crippled by doubt. They know they would not be where they are if those talents had not been nurtured by others or if they had not worked hard.

It is remarkably refreshing and I envy them.

Humility and modesty are possibly the most annoying virtues. Too often the truly modest are neurotic, self-doubters who don’t know their own worth and I want to shake them. YES, YOU ARE TALENTED AND AMAZING! STOP SAYING YOU’RE NOT!

Undervaluing yourself is not a virtue. At its worst self doubt keeps people from doing what they are talented at. I can’t tell you how many brilliant writers I’ve known over the years who’ve never finished a novel because of their lack of self belief, because they are humble, and do not recognise their own talent. That’s a loss to every one of us who would love to read their work. A huge loss.

At the other end of the scale is false modesty: those who live by the humble brag.1 Those who’ve been told they mustn’t talk of their achievements nor blow their own horn, they must be humble and modest but they’re not so they try to disguise their longing to boast by saying, “Oh, this little thing.” “Oh, I don’t know why they wanted me to be the support act for Prince.” Blah blah blah.

Don’t know about you but I’d much rather they were all: “Look at my new dress! I made it! Isn’t it the best thing ever? I love it to death!” Or “OMG! I’m the support act for Prince! This is something I’ve worked towards my ENTIRE LIFE. And now it’s happening! I am so happy! YAY!”

You achieved something amazing. You get to tell people. You get to be excited. You get to jump up and down. Only mean-spirited poo brains would begrudge you your joy. Who cares what they think?

So those confident—but not obnoxious—folk I mentioned at the beginning of this post? All but one are USians. All white. Mostly from loving, supportive families. Mostly male. Mostly not working class. The one non-USian is from a wealthy Australian family. It is amazing how much confidence growing up loved and without the slightest bit of want can give you. Growing up with money does not, of course, guarantee that you’ll be confident. The love part is essential. Sometimes I think the worst start in life anyone can suffer is growing up unloved.

Growing up in Australia I learned that talking positively about your own achievements was one of the worst sins ever.2 “Don’t write tickets on yourself,” should be our national motto. Getting too big for your bootstraps is a national crime and leads to all sorts of contortions as far too many people fall over themselves to seem less smart, talented, and interesting than they are. Not a pretty sight. On the other hand it does lead to some gorgeously self-deprecating wit.

Meanwhile in my other country of citizenship they’re mostly being taught to boast their arses off. Truly, I do enjoy US confidence. It’s so refreshing compared to Australia. But, oh my, when that confidence is married to ignorance and stupidity and blind self belief? Things get very ugly indeed.

These are, of course, caricatures that are mightily affected by intersections of race, class, gender etc and how loving the families we grew up in were. Both countries have folks hiding their lights under bushels.3 They both have less talented folks under the sad delusion that they are The Most Talented People in the Entire Universe.

What we need is a mix of the two cultures so we wind up with the happy medium I started this post with. Nations of people who know their own value and feel neither the urge to constantly boast about it: I AM NUMBER ONE AT EVERYTHING EVER! Or to pretend that their ability to whip up a divine, multilayered, delicate-as-air, intricately decorated cake out of almost nothing is no big thing.

So I’ll end this post telling you something I’m proud of: I’m proud of the book I’m almost finished rewriting. It feels like a big step forward and that makes me happy and proud.4

  1. Though quite a few of the tweets labelled “humble brags” aren’t. Many with big breasts do not find them so wonderful as the world imagines they do. I’ve known way too many big breasted women who’ve longed for smaller breasts. Not to mention several who’ve had breast reductions because the back and shoulder pain was unendurable.
  2. Especially if you’re female or working class or not white—but the rule applies to everyone.
  3. If I wasn’t out of keystrokes for the day I would so finally look that expression up. Where on earth does it come from? Lights? Bushels? So weird.
  4. And this is me suppressing the urge to undercut that boast, er, I mean factual statement with a self-deprecating comment to indictate that I’m not really up myself and you shouldn’t hate me. Aargh. *sitting on my hands now*

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2. Expats

I have been called an expat because I have lived in New York City on and off since 1999. The off time was spent living here in Sydney. I live in two countries and I am not an expat.

When someone in Australia calls me that they’re usually saying I don’t have the authority to comment on what’s happening here because I’ve been away too long. People like Germaine Greer1 and Clive James are called expats. Often with a sneer.

I am not an expat.

I am not an expat in the sense that Australians use it: “Someone who has abandoned Australia and has no clue about it anymore.”

I have never lived outside Australia for more than a year.

I am not an expat in the sense that many others use it either.

I have no Australian friends in NYC. I do not go to Australia clubs to hang out with the other Australians. I don’t eat at Australian restaurants. To me that is expat behaviour. To go to another country and try to live there as much as you can like you were still back home.

Now, part of my not seeking out other Australians in NYC is because I also live in Sydney and there are quite a few Australians here. When we’re in Sydney we’re with our Sydney friends, most of whom are Australian. In NYC we’re with our New Yorker friends, none of whom are originally Australian.

I admit I’m puzzled by people who want to live in another country but once there only hang out with people from their own country. Why not stay home?

Yet, that is what my grandparents did.

But they were refugees. They ran from the Nazis and landed in Australia.2 They did learn English, but it took a long time, and they were never comfortable speaking it.3 All their friends were East European refugees like them. They weren’t wild about Australian food. Sometimes I got the feeling they weren’t too impressed by Australians either.

But, you know what, they lost almost their entire families, almost everyone they’d ever known or loved. They were forced to leave their home. Refugees get a pass.

And their children and their children’s children are very much Australians.

Refugees can’t be expats. To be an expat you have to have chosen to leave your home country; not be fleeing certain persecution.

Those who move to another country to live, who engage with that country, rather than perch on top of it, are migrants, not expats.

I’m a migrant, not an expat. Some of us migrants go back home. A lot. Some of us live in more than one country.

Ever since I started living in two different countries I’ve met more and more people who do the same. I’ve met even more people who would love to do that but simply can’t afford it.4 The old path of migration meaning you left your country forever and ever amen is not the only path.

I have a friend in NYC, originally from Guatemala, who goes back there for a few months every year. I’ve met many Mexican-Americans who go back and forth between Mexico and the US. And Indonesian-Australians who go back and forth between Indonesia and Australia. The closer your country is to the other country you live in the easier it is. Not that I’m jealous . . .

I know loads of mixed national couples like me and Scott who alternate what country they live in. Even couples with kids who do that. Though they tend to do years-long chunks in each country. The Belgian/Australian couple I met recently have just spent five years here and now are moving there with their two children where the kids will be attending a trilingual school.

In conclusion: do not call me an expat! Or something . . .

  1. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why Germaine Greer is so hated here. Mostly by men. I love her. She’s hilarious and has been amazingly important to feminism. Yes, she can be wrong. Yes, I disagree with her as often as I agree. So? She’s a possum stirrer. Always has been. It’s a noble pursuit. Though it sure does seem to be more admired in men than women.
  2. They would have preferred Argentina but the Australian visas came through first.
  3. Mind you they had six other languages to use.
  4. Living in two different countries is expensive. We’re very privileged that we can do it.

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3. Getting Started

I have a writing problem which is shared by many writers: I struggle to get started.

I wrote about this problem a bit way back in 2009 when I confessed to almost destroying my professional writing career before it even started. The first six months of being a full-time freelance writer was one great big procrastinatory guilt-ridden hell.

Since then I have reigned it in so that it’s only a struggle at the beginning of a first draft.

For the first week or so on a new book it is a major effort for me to look away from whatever online or offline spectacle is calling to me in order to start typing. I’ll have the open scrivener project with the initial idea jotted down. Girl who always lies. And I’ll think, well, do I know enough about lying? Maybe I should look up what recent research there’s been? So I do that. Then I accidentally look at twitter. Or someone’s blog where a flamewar has started. Then my twenty minute break reminder will buzz. So I have to get up and stretch and someone will text me and I’ll realise we haven’t chatted in ages and call them. And as I walk around the flat chatting I’ll realise that I haven’t emptied the dishwasher and once it’s emptied I have to load it with the dirties. And then I’ll be hungry and have to make second breakfast and in doing so I’ll notice that some of the parsley in the garden is going to flower and I’ll pick those bits and kill some bugs and check for weeds and make sure the passionfruit isn’t growing over to our next door neighbour’s deck. And then I’ll realise we need pine nuts for the dinner we’re going to make so I have to up to the shops.

And like that. At which point the sun will be setting and it’s time to down tools and I’ll have written precisely no words of the new novel I swore I’d start that day.

The next day there’ll be more of the same. And that will keep on until for some miraculous reason I start typing actual words that turn into actual coherent sentences of novel-ness.

The next day the struggle will be a little bit less bad and every day will be better than the day before until I’m on a roll and the novel is actually being written.

By the time I’m heading to the climax and then the end of the book it’s really hard to not write.

It goes like that unless I take a break for a holiday, or get sick, or for some other reason stop work for four days or more. When I return to the book it’s as if I’m starting all over again. Aargh! It takes several days, sometimes more than a week, to get back into the swing again. Drives me nuts.

I have developed several methods of dealing with this annoying tendency of mine.

Procrastination is good

The first is to simply accept that procrastinating is part of my process. Often I’m unable to get started on a new novel because I’m not ready. I haven’t found the way in: the right voice, the right setting, the right starting point. I haven’t done enough research. All that futzing around is me finding a way in. It’s necessary and without it I can’t write my novels.

Though sometimes I’m just flat out wasting time. RSI has meant that I do way less of that online. I consider that to be a blessing because it pushes me out to the garden or out of the house altogether a lot more often. Nothing better for thinking things through than being away from my computer. Long walks, I love you.

Research

Not having done enough research is often the reason why I can’t get started. I need to know more about that world and those characters and what their problem is.

Before I could really get going with Liar I had to find out a lot more about lying. Why people lie, what kinds of lies they tell, the difference between compulsive and pathological lying.

Same with the 1930s New York City novel. I needed to know so much more about the city back then, about the USA back then, about how the USA wound up where it was in the early 1930s. So the idea kicked around for quite a long time before I could write anything down.

Sometimes a novel springs from research I don’t realise I’m doing. I’ll be reading a non-fiction book or listening to a fascinating radio show or see a great documentary and it will give me a great idea. That’s how my sekrit project novel, what I just finished first draft of, got started.1

Many books at once

I have learned to always jot down new ideas. For me they’re rarely ideas, per se, more often they’re a fragment or beginning. That way I always have a novel to turn to when I’m stuck on the one I’m supposed to be writing.

The first words I wrote of Liar are:

I’m a liar. I don’t do it on purpose. Well, okay, yeah, I do. But it’s not like I have a choice. It’s just what comes out of my mouth. If my mouth is closed then I’m cool, no lies at all.

That did not make it into the book. I don’t even know whose voice that is. It’s not that of Micah, Liar‘s protagonist. But I jotted that down in 2005 as the first spark of the book that was published as Liar two years later.

At the time I had already started, but not finished, the book that was to become How To Ditch Your Fairy and was on deadline to finish Magic Lessons, the second book in the Magic or Madness trilogy. I was also hard at work on the Daughters of Earth anthology. It was not a good time to start a new book, but I was stuck on Magic Lessons: so the day before it was due with my US publisher I started writing HTDYF.

Yes, I was a bit late with Magic Lessons. From memory, I think I was no more than two weeks late, which is not too bad. Starting HTDYF when I did meant that after I’d sent off the first draft of Magic Lessons I could get back to work on it. And in between ML rewrites and copyedits and proofs and having to write the last book in the trilogy I kept going back to it. It was a wonderful respite from what I was supposed to be writing.2

Turns out that what works best for me is to always have more than one novel on the go. Right at this moment I have recently finished the first draft of my sekrit project novel. But I have ten other novels that I’ve started, ranging from the 1930s New York City novel, which is more than 100,000 words long, to a rough idea for a novel of 126 words.

If I get stuck with the book I planned to work on I turn to one of the other books. Often I’m writing back and forth on several different books at once until one of them takes off. Sometimes I’m totally unable to decide and poll my blog readers or ask my agent or Scott. That’s how I went with Liar back in 2007 and put down the lodger novel and the plastic surgery novel both of which I know I’ll get back to some day. Actually I got back to the lodger one a few years ago before it was swamped by the 1930s NYC novel and then Team Human.

If I get an idea for a new book I always jot it down no matter where I am with the main novel I’m working on. Sometimes that novel takes over. The novel I just finished came to me very strongly a year ago when I was feeling overwhelmed by the sprawling NYC 1930s novel which had just hit 100,000 words with no visible sign of ending. I hadn’t, in fact, gotten up to what I thought would be the book’s first incident. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS and I wasn’t at what I thought was the beginning. AARGH. In my panic I started a whole other novel.3

In conclusion: There may be a good reason you can’t get started. Procrastination can be your friend. It’s okay to flibbertigibbet from one novel to another and back again and then to another and so on. Other writers will have other solutions and processes. Do whatever it is that works best for you.4 Zombies should not, in fact, be added to all stories. Just the ones that need zombies.

  1. It’s a sekrit project for no particular reason. I just really enjoy having sekrit projects. Makes me feel like a spy. What? I get to have fun!
  2. That’s one of the many reasons I don’t like writing books under contract. A contract for one book just makes all the uncontracted novel ideas seem that much more shiny.
  3. Co-incidentally, or not really, me and Sarah Rees Brennan started writing Team Human at another point when I was overwhelmed by the NYC novel. I suspect there will be one or two more other novels before I finish the damn thing.
  4. Unless it involves hurting anyone.

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4. Photo Request

If anyone has photos of Scott and me taken together any time after January 2008 could you please leave a link to them in the comments below or send them to me.

Photos of us with other people would be especially wonderful, but just the two of us is fine too.

You’d be doing both of us a huge favour.

Many thanks!

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5. Jim Crow, Antebellum Propoganda, Civil Rights & the Color Line

Sibylle asked:

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but is this question [have you heard of Joel Chandler Harris] somehow connected to your reading of Slavery by Another Name by Blackmon?

You are not reading too much into my question. It is indeed related to my reading of Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name or, rather it’s related to the research I’ve been doing for my book set in the early years of the 1930s in New York City. I asked about Harris because I’d never heard of him and only vaguely knew what the Uncle Remus stories were. Yet his name kept coming up in a lot of reading I’ve been dong. I was curious to know whether he was still being read and how he fits into modern USians reading histories.1

How did I get there?

I began my research reading everything I could set in, or about, the early 1930s in NYC. I expanded backwards to read about the Crash, the beginning of Prohibition, the Harlem Renaissance.

But it soon became apparent that there was loads I wasn’t understanding because I didn’t know enough even earlier US history. For example, while reading Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South edited by William Henry Chafe, Raymond Gavins & Robert Korstad (which I highly recommend) I realised that I didn’t know when or how the Jim Crow laws originated. I didn’t know if they were federal, or state, or local, or all three. I didn’t know if they were restricted to the South. They weren’t and New York was, in fact, the worst of the Northern states. Though there were restrictions on where African-Americans live throughout the entire country. The color line was more of a wall. (Don’t believe me? Read this excellent account, Jim Crow in New York by Erika Wood and Liz Budnitz with Garima Malhotra from the Brennan Centre for Justice. You can download it for free.)

Before I started my research for this book I didn’t know very much about the Civil Rights struggle in the North. For those of you who are interested I highly recommend Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North by Thomas J. Sugrue. Reading that book side by side with Or Does it Explode: Black Harlem in the Great Depression by Cheryl Lynn Greenburg (yet another wonderful book) has done an enormous amount to widen my understanding and (I hope) improve the book I’m writing.

Finding out the answers to my many questions meant reading further back in time and realising that I didn’t really know a lot about Reconstruction or how Reconstruction ended and the North ceded control of the South. It also meant learning about how the myth of the Antebellum South emerged—you know that magical place of happy black slaves and beautiful white women worshipped by gallant white men, where the only poor whites were mean and trashy and deserved to be poor?—which was so pivotal to cultural understandings of race in the USA after the Civil War and Reconstruction. A myth that was as much constructed in the North as the South. A myth that overrode facts, such as that the crime wave in the wake of the Civil War was almost entirely the doing of renegade whites, not of black slaves gone mad with freedom. A myth that will not go away.

I realised pretty quickly that I needed to know a lot more about how 19th (and then early 20th century) USians thought about race, which led to learning about “scientific” explanations of race and the so-called science of raciol

2 Comments on Jim Crow, Antebellum Propoganda, Civil Rights & the Color Line, last added: 4/16/2010
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6. More Questions + Event

You’re unlikely to get anything sensible out of me for awhile. This will be brief. First, thanks for all the responses yesterday. That was truly fascinating.

Second, we recently finished watching Fullmetal Alchemist and Read or Die and LOVED them both with a fiery burning passion. Thanks everyone who recommended them. What should we watch next? And why do you recommend it?

Third, without googling how many have you heard of Joel Chandler Harris? And what do you know about him? And where are you from? (I suspect how old you are is pertinent also.)

Thank you!

If you’re in NYC you can see me and Scott reading this Saturday:

Justine Larbalestier, Bennett Madison,
Scott Westerfeld, & Cecily von Ziegesar
Reading and Q&A
12:30PM-1:15PM, Saturday, 10 April
Center for Fiction
17 E. 47th Street, Second floor
(between Madison & Fifth Ave.)
NY NY

The price of admission? Your donation of two or more new or gently used board books through grade 12.

I’ll be reading from my 1930s book.

Later!

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7. Two NYC YA Events

If you’re in NYC in the next couple of weeks here are two YA events you might want to check out:

The latest New York Review of Science Fiction Readings features

Barry Lyga, Marie Rutkoski, & Robin Wasserman
curated by Carol Cooper

Tuesday, 6 April, Doors open 6:30 PM, event begins at 7:00 PM
SoHo Gallery for Digital Art
138 Sullivan Street (between Houston & Prince St.)

Admission is by a $5 donation. (If circumstances make this a hardship, let them know and they will accommodate you.)

Me and Scott will be taking part in the Read This Books for NYC Schools Day on the 10th of April. Read This collects books for people who need them, especially schools without libraries, hospitals, homeless shelters, troops overseas, etc.

Justine Larbalestier, Bennett Madison,
Scott Westerfeld, & Cecily von Ziegesar
Reading and Q&A
12:30PM-1:15PM, Saturday, 10 April
Center for Fiction
17 E. 47th Street, Second floor
(between Madison & Fifth Ave.)
NY NY

The price of admission? Your donation of two or more new or gently used board books through grade 12.

The readings will be short. Just five minutes each.1 I’ll be reading a letter from the 1930s novel (the novel I’m mostly working on right now) by my favourite character, Lizzy.2 Scott may or may not be reading a sneak preview from Goliath. He says it will depend on the crowd and his jetlag.

Hope to see some of you there.

  1. My favourite kind of reading.
  2. Well, she’s one of my favourite characters. I kind of love them all.

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8. How to Get Published? Don’t Ask Me

There’s a lot of shockingly bad advice about how to get published online. Much of it comes from unpublished people who know nothing about the publishing industry and are bitter about their own inability to get published.1 But some of it is from actual published writers with careers, who have a bug up their arse about the evil of agents, or small presses, or big presses, or whatever, because of a particularly bad experience they’ve had. Or who are coming out of one genre and acting like their advice applies to all genres.2

Then I read this very sensible piece by Jay Lake, which solidified for me something I’ve been trying to say for awhile now, which basically goes like this: before you take someone’s advice pay careful attention to where that person is coming from. Are they qualified to be giving this particular advice?

Now, it’s pretty obvious that if you wish to be published taking advice from some who has never been published is usually not wise. But Jay’s bigger advice is that often taking the advice of someone with a thriving career is also not wise because too many times what they can tell you is how they broke into the field. Problem is that happened ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty years ago and the field has changed since then.

So that when an established writer tells you that you don’t need an agent to get published they’re not lying. Back in the day when they were first published you didn’t. They’re also not lying when they say they continue to be published without an agent. But they’re neglecting to mention that that’s because they are known by those publishers. Someone looking to sell their first novel is not and given that so many of the big publishing houses are closed to submissions an agent is usually a first-time author’s best bet for getting published at a big house.

Any advice I give about getting published has to be taken with a large grain of salt by anyone who isn’t trying to break in to YA in the US. I have no idea how to get published in Australia—even though I’m Australian. I wasn’t published there until after I sold in the US. I still know far more about publishing in the US than I do about my own country. Nor do I know much about any market in the world except YA in the USA. If you’re trying to break into Romance or Crime or Literachure I’m useless to you.

That said, I’m probably not the most useful person to you for breaking into YA in the US either. I know about half a dozen agents well. There are way more reputable ones than that. I follow all the publishing news, far more than most YA writers, but I still don’t know that much about what goes on in those publishing houses and what all the editors are looking for. I know many editors, but I’ve only worked with a handful. You only really know an editor well when you’ve worked with them.

I know I said above that you shouldn’t be taking an unpublished person’s advice, but there are some great blogs by such writers detailing the process of trying to get published, which have very sensible things to say about query letters and the nuts and bolts of submitting to various different publishers when you don’t have an agent. All stuff that I know very little about. I have not written a query letter in a decade. Someone who’s actively trying to get published right now knows way more about query letters than I do.

I can talk about what it’s llike being a journeyman YA author. I can give you an author’s view on how you get published in more than one country and a variety of other topics that have to do with being a YA author with five novels under her belt. But take what I say about breaking into this field with a grain of salt. For that you’ll get better advice from agents and editors and bra

1 Comments on How to Get Published? Don’t Ask Me, last added: 3/14/2010
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9. Sunday Afternoon

Sunday afternoons are meant to be lazy. It’s like a law. Which you’re not allowed to ignore even if you have a tonne of work to do.

So Scott and me went to visit Lauren McLaughlin and meet her and Woofy’s new baby, Adeline. She’s a darling. We were there for more than three hours and she didn’t cry once. Astonishing!

Here’s Addie after being fed:

Isn’t she a darling? (Who is that strange man in the background?)

In other news the stalker contest continues. Many excellent entries. If you want to enter do so over there not here.

And now I must get back to work. Sadly . . .

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10. Agent Websites are Irrelevant (updated)

I keep seeing new writers in search of an agent get hung up on the fact that many agents don’t have much of an online presence.

Newsflash: an agent’s website is irrelevant to how good an agent they are. Some of the top agents in the business barely have an online presence at all.

Think about it for just a second: what is an agent’s website for exactly? It’s not for editors, i.e. the people agents sell to. Good agents already have relationships with editors at all the big houses and many of the little ones too. Editors don’t need to look up agents’ websites. The people who most frequently visit an agent’s site are writers looking for representation. And the good agents do not need to advertise for clients. Thus they do not need a good website.

My agent, Jill Grinberg, doesn’t blog and has a website that’s been under construction since 2006. Yet somehow she manages to be an extraordinarily good agent. I am very very happy and grateful to be with her. Trust me, Jill does not lack for clients.

Time and time again I see newbies comment about how if an agent doesn’t have an uptodate website they must be a crap agent who’s clearly still using messenger pigeons to communicate. So not true. The vast majority of my communication with Jill is done via email. I send her all my manuscripts as attachments. She is entirely in the 21st century. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t communicate with their agent in the same way.

When I see newbies saying they’re not going to submit to Jill because of her luddite ways I have to laugh. The only person they’re punishing is themselves.

I think what many many new writers searching for an agent don’t get is that new clients are not the majority of agents’ priority. Newbies are so focussed on the searching part that they sometimes don’t think about how what they want from agents will change when they actually get one.

When you have an agent you don’t care about their website or how clear their submission guidelines are or whether they take electronic submissions. You care about how fast they get back to you about your problems and how good the deals they make for you are. The stuff that was hugely important when you were looking for an agent disappears from view. You don’t think about it again.

The top priority of an agent is looking after their existing clients. When a new writer finds the perfect agent they’re going to be very grateful for that. They won’t be giving much thought to the state of their agent’s website.

Update: I am not saying agents should not have websites. Or that agents with websites are bad agents. Merely that the fact of having or not having a website is irrelevant to how good an agent they are.

I am also saying that what seems important when you’re looking for an agent won’t be once you have one.

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11. RIP Charles N. Brown

Charles N. Brown was the publisher of Locus: The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field. He was well known throughout the SFF world for this love and support for the field and his enormous generosity.

I first met him at the 1993 World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis1 when I was researching my PhD thesis. He was extremely enthusiastic about my research and gave me many leads and suggestions including inviting me to make use of his insanely extensive library in Oakland. His help was invaluable. He knew everyone and pretty much everything about SFF in the USA. We remained friends even after my defection to YA. My case is not unique. Over the years he has helped many young researchers and writers and editors and fans of the genre.

My thoughts go out to everyone at Locus and everyone who cared about Charles.

We’ll all miss him.

  1. I think. It was some time that year.

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12. Sonia Sotomayor Hearings

Before this past week I had never watched a congressional hearing before. In the ten years I’ve been living back and forth between Sydney and NYC I never found time to spend a few hours watching this variety of Washington theatre. I’m glad I did. In the course of several hours of listening to senators question Sonia Sotomayor to find out if she’s qualified to be a Supreme Court justice I learned a bit more about the political process in the US and that Sotomayor is one of the calmest, most patient, smart and rational people on the planet. She was amazing.

But it turns out these hearings weren’t really about her.

The hearings were about a handful of white male senators grandstanding to the people they think are their constituents. And what were they grandstanding about? Frank Rich nails it:

The hearings were pure “Alice in Wonderland.” Reality was turned upside down. Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here. The senators seemed to have no idea they were describing themselves when they tried to caricature Sotomayor as an overemotional, biased ideologue.

If I put men like those in any of my novels I would be accused of stereotyping. Very few people would believe in characters who don’t listen to anything that’s said to them, who insist that anyone who isn’t exactly like them—white, male, old—is biased. That, in fact, being white, male and old renders them, not only neutral, but the only real people in the world.

All their attacks on Sotomayor, because they weren’t questions, were just an oft repeated refrain on how dare Sotomayor think that being a Latina qualified her for anything. (Um, hello, she doesn’t think that, she thinks her long and distinguished record qualifies her.) Pat Buchanan put it even more nakedly on Rachel Maddow’s show this week when he declared that white men made America.

To which you can only stare and gape. Buchanan does not know much about his own country’s history. He does not seem to know that the early white settlers would have starved without the help of the indigenous peoples. He does not know that slavery was the economic making of the country, that the White House was built by slaves, and the railroads were built by indentured Chinese labour and that without the contributions of people who weren’t white or male this country would not be what it is.

Why, does Buchanan feel the need to say something so preposterous in his analysis of Sotomayor’s qualifications for the Supreme Court? Because he and those senators see the inclusion of anyone who isn’t like them as an attack on them. When a Latina makes it onto the Supreme Court that is an attack on their white male power. Their “we” doesn’t even include all white men, just the ones who think like them, of which, mercifully, there are fewer and fewer.

I’ll give a white man, Stephen Colbert, the last word:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Neutral Man’s Burden
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Jeff Goldblum

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13. Ain’t That a Shame

In the last few weeks as people have started reading the US ARC of Liar they have also started asking why there is such a mismatch between how Micah describes herself and the cover image. Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short. As you can see that description does not match the US cover.

Many people have been asking me how I feel about the US cover, why I allowed such a cover to appear on a book of mine, and why I haven’t been speaking out about it.

Authors do not get final say on covers. Often they get no say at all.

As it happens I was consulted by Bloomsbury and let them know that I wanted a cover like the Australian cover, which I think is very true to the book.1 I was lucky that my Australian publisher, Allen & Unwin, agreed with my vision and that the wonderful Bruno Herfst came up with such a perfect cover image.

I never wanted a girl’s face on the cover. Micah’s identity is unstable. She spends the book telling different version of herself. I wanted readers to be free to imagine her as they wanted. I have always imagined her looking quite a bit like Alana Beard,2 which is why I was a bit offended by the reviewer, who in an otherwise lovely review, described Micah as ugly. She’s not!3

The US Liar cover went through many different versions. An early one, which I loved, had the word Liar written in human hair. Sales & Marketing did not think it would sell. Bloomsbury has had a lot of success with photos of girls on their covers and that’s what they wanted. Although not all of the early girl face covers were white, none showed girls who looked remotely like Micah.

I strongly objected to all of them. I lost.

I haven’t been speaking out publicly because to be the first person to do so would have been unprofessional. I have privately been campaigning for a different cover for the paperback. The response to the cover by those who haven’t read Liar has been overwhelmingly positive and I would have looked churlish if I started bagging it at every opportunity. I hoped that once people read Liar they would be as upset as I am with the cover. It would not have helped get the paperback changed if I was seen to be orchestrating that response. But now that this controversy has arisen I am much more optimistic about getting the cover changed. I am also starting to rethink what I want that cover to look like. I did want Bloomsbury to use the Australian cover, but I’m increasingly thinking that it’s important to have someone who looks like Micah on the front.

I want to make it clear that while I disagree with Bloomsbury about this cover I am otherwise very happy to be with them. They’ve given me space to write the books I want to write. My first book for them was a comic fairy book that crossed over into middle grade (How To Ditch Your Fairy). I followed that up with Liar, a dark psychological thriller that crosses over into adult. There are publishers who would freak. No one at Bloomsbury batted an eye. I have artistic freedom there, which is extraordinarily important to me. They are solidly behind my work and have promoted it at every level in ways I have never been promoted before.

Covers change how people read books

Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.

No one in Australia has written to ask me if Micah is really black.

No one in Australia has said that they will not be buying Liar because “my teens would find the cover insulting.”

Both responses are heart breaking.

This cover did not happen in isolation.

Every year at every publishing house, intentionally and unintentionally, there are white-washed covers. Since I’ve told publishing friends how upset I am with my Liar cover, I have been hearing anecdotes from every single house about how hard it is to push through covers with people of colour on them. Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA—they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section—and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all. How welcome is a black teen going to feel in the YA section when all the covers are white? Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her?

The notion that “black books” don’t sell is pervasive at every level of publishing. Yet I have found few examples of books with a person of colour on the cover that have had the full weight of a publishing house behind them4 Until that happens more often we can’t know if it’s true that white people won’t buy books about people of colour. All we can say is that poorly publicised books with “black covers” don’t sell. The same is usually true of poorly publicised books with “white covers.”

Are the big publishing houses really only in the business of selling books to white people? That’s not a very sustainable model if true. Certainly the music industry has found that to be the case. Walk into a music store, online or offline, and compare the number of black faces you see on the covers there as opposed to what you see in most book stores. Doesn’t seem to effect white people buying music. The music industry stopped insisting on white washing decades ago. Talented artists like Fats Domino no longer needs Pat Boone to cover genius songs like “Ain’t That a Shame” in order to break into the white hit parade. (And ain’t that song title ironic?)

There is, in fact, a large audience for “black books” but they weren’t discovered until African American authors started self-publishing and selling their books on the subway and on the street and directly into schools. And, yet, the publishing industry still doesn’t seem to get it. Perhaps the whole “black books don’t sell” thing is a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I hope that the debate that’s arisen because of this cover will widen to encompass the whole industry. I hope it gets every publishing house thinking about how incredibly important representation is and that they are in a position to break down these assumptions. Publishing companies can make change. I really hope that the outrage the US cover of Liar has generated will go a long way to bringing an end to white washing covers. Maybe even to publishing and promoting more writers of color.

But never forget that publishers are in the business of making money. Consumers need to do what they can. When was the last time you bought a book with a person of colour on the front cover or asked your library to order one for you? If you were upset by the US cover of Liar go buy one right now. I’d like to recommend Coe Booth’s Kendra which is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Waiting on my to be read pile is Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger, which has been strongly recommended to me by many people.

Clearly we do not live in a post-racist society. But I’d like to think that the publishing world is better than those many anecdotes I’ve been hearing. But for that to happen, all of us—writers, editors, designers, sales reps, booksellers, reviewers, readers, and parents of readers—will have to do better.

  1. I didn’t see the Australian cover until after the US cover was finalised.
  2. Yes, another protag of mine who looks like a WNBA player. What can I say? I’m a fan.
  3. If you’re interested, I imagine another character in the book, Sarah, as looking like a younger Rutina Wesley, who’s not a WNBA player.
  4. And most of those were written by white people.

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14. The Audio Book of Liar

My last week in NYC I was invited to visit the studio where the audio book of Liar was being recorded. Even though I had a gazillion million things to do I made sure to get there. I’m so glad I did. It was an amazing experience.

I’d never had my prose read out loud by a talented actor like Channie Waites before. It was a revelation. I know it’s a cliche but she really did make my book come alive. Bits that I hadn’t realised were funny, she rendered funny. (In a good way!) It was strange and wonderful and gave me chills. And as you can see I’m really struggling to articulate how incredible it felt to listen to Micah brought to life.


Channie Waites in the booth behind the glass and Lisa Cahn reflected in the glass


Channie Waites in the booth and Jeffrey Kawalek doing his sound engineering thing

Let me instead talk about the nitty gritty. There were three people in the studio: Channie Waites in the recording booth, then the engineer, Jeffrey Kawalek, who’d call a halt to proceedings anytime he heard a P or T pop or the rustle of Channie’s clothing (those mics are crazy sensitive) who fiddled with knobs and dials and, lastly, Lisa Cahn, the producer, who would stop the recording to ask Channie to read it with more or less emphasis and so on. It was unbelievably hard to keep my mouth shut and not interrupt with my own suggestions, but I managed, and after a few minutes was able to relax and just enjoy hearing someone else’s interpretation of my book and my characters.


Channie Waites in the recording booth

Both Channie and Lisa had really interesting theories and questions about the book. I wrote Liar to be read in at least two different ways, but the responses I’m getting are showing me that there are way more than just two interpretations. I love hearing them all. Especially Channie’s and Lisa’s because they’d both read it very closely indeed. The finished recording is eight hours long but it takes at least double that to do the recording. That’s a long time to spend reading one book. I can’t wait to hear the whole thing.

The Liar recording was produced by Brilliance Audio and the How To Ditch Your Fairy one was produced by Bolinda Audio. Each will be available from the other company because of their cunning co-production. Liar will go on sale in each country at the same time as the print edition.

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15. Events, I does them

In addition to my Melbourne Writers Festival events—first one is tomorrow with Scott and Isobelle Carmody *squee*—soon I’ll be off on my second US tour. Pretty, exciting, eh?

I just added a few events to the appearances page. So far I have events confirmed (or close to) for Phoenix, Nashville, Memphis, Austin, Seattle, Portland and New York City. I’m especially excited about those first three cities as I’ve never been to any of them before.

Also: Memphis = Gracelands = Justine hyperventilating. For those of who don’t know, yes, I am a daggy Elvis fan. Goes back to when I was very little.

There will be at least one or two more cities on my tour. I’ll let you know which ones as soon as I know. Here’s hoping it’s your city.

Just so you know, I don’t pick where I go. The wonderful publicists at Bloomsbury make those decisions and it largely depends on which book shops, libraries and schools want me to come to talk to them. It could be that I’m not going to your town because no one there asked my publisher to send me. So get mad at your local book shops, schools and libraries, not at me!1

What will I be doing on tour? Talking about Liar, how I came to write it, my thoughts on lying, and the many other things that shaped the book. I’m also happy to talk about my earlier books, especially How To Ditch Your Fairy which comes out in its brand new shiny paperback edition at the same time as Liar debuts in hardcover. In fact, I’ll talk about whatever you want me to talk about. Last year, at one school event all they did was ask me about food. Oh, and to tell them vomit stories. I live to answer your questions.

Here’s hoping I’ll get to meet some more of you over the next few days and months. It’s my favourite part of touring.

  1. Kidding! Book shops, schools and libraries never do anything wrong.

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16. Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t

Lately, I have heard several published white writers express their trepidation about the idea of writing non-white characters. Some of them have mentioned that they feel they’ll get in trouble if they continue to write only white characters, but that they also feel they’ll get into trouble if they write characters who aren’t white cause they’ll bugger it up.

Damned if you do, they say, damned if you don’t.

To which I can only say, and I mean this nicely, “Please!”

What exactly are you risking? Who exactly is damning you? Which of your previously published novels have attracted no criticisms and no damnation? Cause that’s amazing. You wrote a book no one critcised? Awesome. Please teach me that trick!

Every single book I’ve published has displeased someone. I’ve been accused of promoting teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, and underage drinking. Every single one of my books has caused at least a few people to tell me that I stuffed various things up: my descriptions of Sydney, of NYC, of mathematics (absolutely true), my Oz characters don’t speak like proper Aussies, and my USians don’t talk like proper Yanquis. My teenagers sound too young or too old and are too smart or too stupid. I did my best, but some think that was not good enough.

That’s the risk you take when you write a book.

If you do not have the knowledge, resources, research, or writing skills to write people who are different from you, then don’t. People may well criticise you for that. They’ll also criticise you for having some of your characters speak their notion of ungrammatical English1. And for not having enough vampires. Whatever.2 Write what you’re good at. Lots and lots of writers pretty much only write about themselves and their friends. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a famous example. There are many many others. That’s fine. Own it. And do it as well as you can.

If you, as a white writer, decide to write people of a different hue to yourself then you should do your damnedest to get it right. But know that no matter how well researched your book, no matter how well vetted by multiple knowledgeable readers it is, there will always be people who think you buggered it up and misrepresented them. All you can do is write the best, most thoroughly researched book you possibly can. After all, don’t you do that with every book you write? You don’t write your historicals with Wikipedia as your only source, do you? Right then.

What should you do when you are criticised?

Listen. Learn. Even if you think they’re insane and completely wrong.

Figure out how to avoid the same egregious mistakes in your next book. But remember that your next book will also be criticised. That’s how it goes.

Do not have a hissy fit and say you’ll never write about anyone who isn’t white again. Do not insult those criticising you.

Say you, as a white American, write a novel with many Thai-American characters and a Thai-American reader criticises you for getting something wrong yet another Thai-American reader praises you for getting the exact same thing right. Who do you believe?

What do you do when two white readers disagree about stuff in your books? Do you assume that all white people are the same? Perhaps it’s time to stop assuming that all Thai-Americans are the same and have the same opinions and experiences. Thailand’s a big country with a wide range of ethnicities, religions, cuisines and everything else. The experiences of the Thai diaspora in the USA is going to be just as varied. Some Thai Americans will think you got it right, some will think you got it wrong. That’s how it goes.

Keep in mind that Thai-Americans writing about Thai-Americans are also criticised and told they get it wrong. No one is immune from criticism. No one is immune from getting it wrong for at least some of their readers. We all do it.

Writing is hard. No matter what you write about. You will be damned no matter what you do. But that has nothing to do with you being white, that has to do with you having the arrogance to be a writer, and publish what you write for other people to read. Your readers get to judge you. That’s just how it goes. Your job is to be a grown up about what you do and how people respond to you. That’s really hard too. Trust me, I know.

Thus endeth the rant.

  1. Trust me, I get that one all the time
  2. I am SO over vampires. Except for the good ones.

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17. A Wish After Midnight

First I must make a confession: I was very nervous about reading Zetta Elliott’s A Wish After Midnight despite all the good reviews it’s had. I was nervous because it’s self-published and I’ve had some bad experiences with self-published books. Midnight does show a few (minor) signs of not coming from an established publisher such as the margins and line spacing too tight. However, within a couple of pages I stopped being bothered by them, and a few pages after that I stopped seeing them at all because I was lost in the story.

I feel like A Wish After Midnight was designed with me in mind. Because it does so many things I love as well as working as an homage to one of my favourite writers, Octavia Butler. It’s a time travel story set in New York City between now(ish) and the Civil War. Both time periods are vividly realised. You can smell and taste and feel the very different NYC (mostly Brooklyn) landscapes between then and now. I adore historical novels that are clearly well-researched and yet all that research is not obvious. It permeates every scene, every sentence of the book, but it never feels like the author was showing off. Story came first. I love social realism that is also genre. Wish covers multiple genres seamlessly.

Then there’s the protagonist. I absolutely adored Gemma Colon. She’s smart, strong, resourceful, but also very young. She’s an outsider at school and doesn’t get on with her two oldest siblings. Her mother is fighting hard to keep the family afloat but that involves working around the clock. Funny how economic stability and emotional stability sometimes work out to be incompatible. If you’re a single parent working two jobs you don’t get to spend enough time with your children. Gemma is in a lot of pain but she channels it all into working as hard as she can at school and at home. She maintains a huge capacity for joy and hope. Can you tell I adored her?

A Wish After Midnight is influenced by one of my favourite books of all time, Octavia Butler’s Kindred. You could almost say that it’s a YA reworking of Butler’s brilliant book. Butler has had an enormous influence on my writing. So when I say that Wish evokes Kindred without ever being overwhelmed by it, that’s a huge compliment. In fact, I was left wanting to re-read Kindred and Wish back to back.

My biggest question about Wish is why it had to be self-published. This is great story telling, it’s totally commercial—i.e. I could not put it down—it’s also an ethically compelling book about race, class and gender. It’s not like other books in the marketplace. I don’t understand why a big house has not picked it up.

As you can tell my streak of reading extremely good books continues. I’d love to hear what you all thought of A Wish After Midnight espeically those of you have also read Kindred.

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18. Too Many Books About NYC?

Ever since I first became a part of the YA world, I’ve been noticing complaints that way too many YA books published in the US of A are set in New York City. Why can’t other cities get a look in? they ask. Off the top of my head I can easily name many, many US YA books that are not set in NYC. But I think most people would concede that there are more YA books set in NYC than any other city or place in the USA.

There are lots of reasons. There’s the famous New York City bubble. People who live in NYC find it hard to believe there is anything of interest outside her five boroughs. (And most of them are unconvinced there’s anything cool anywhere expect the borough they happen to live in.) I don’t share that opinion, but hey, I’m from Sydney that’s where all the cool stuff actually is.

I have never heard anyone bitch that all Oz YA is set in Sydney. That’s beacause a) it isn’t and b) the publishing industry is mostly in Melbourne. But neither is most OZ YA set in Melbourne. Actually, an astonishing number of Oz YA novels are set in country towns. This is especially astonishing given that Australia is the most highly urbanised country in the world.

I think the preponderance of NYC YA makes sense given the huge population of the city and that it’s the centre of publishing and thus has a long long history of writers living here. Er, like me.1 I’m one of those writers who needs to have been to the places I write about. My five novels are set in Sydney, NYC, San Miguel de Allende, Bangkok, Dallas as well as a city, New Avalon, I invented and thus know really well.2

Are any of you annoyed by all the USian YA set in NYC? Do you not read it cause you’re so sick of it? Or is it more that when you’re picking a new book you’ll pass if it’s yet another one set in NYC?

If you’re not from the US, are you annoyed by the setting of any of the YA in your country? Is too much French YA set in Paris? Too many Bangkok YA novels in Thailand?

  1. For half the year.
  2. For me the hardest to write were Dallas and Bangkok cause I’ve only been a couple of times and don’t know either city especially very well. Fortunately it was just a few short scene set in either city. If I were to write whole novel set in either I suspect I’d have to live there while writing.

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19. Memphis Rocks

Yesterday was lovely. First up there was the flight from NYC. Well, okay, that was not lovely. Flying in the US rarely is. Ridiculously long security lines, having my luggage searched yet again and all my carefully packed to prevent wrinkling event clothes trashed, etc. However, I sat next to a book cover designer and we had a long goss about the industry and the flight arrived on time. So, really, it went better than usual.

Fist event of the tour was an interview with the fabulous Justine magazine. Yes, there’s a magazine named after me.1 We talked books, writing, and Elvis. Hey, I’m in Memphis, you know. It is the land of Elvis.

Next was the event at Davis-Kidd Booksellers.2 It was a small crowd but they were full of good questions and incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about YA. I had a blast rattling off my various theories about Flowers in the Attic, Wuthering Heights, Elvis’s mother’s middle name, Australia’s gravitational pull and why all YA writers know each. Yes, me and Stephenie Meyer and Philip Pullman and Cassandra Clare are all best friends!

After the event we went to Rendezvous BBQ, which many people say is the best barbeque joint in Memphis, some say in all of the United States. I am not really in a good position to judge because I have not had a lot of bbq in my life but it was definitely the best bbq this Australian girl has ever had. I would live there if I could. Oh, and those of you who follow Maureen Johnson’s twitter feed she was totally lying about only eating a bit of bbq sauce on a spoon. Rendezvous has a veggie plate: meatless beans and rice, coleslaw, cheese and pickles. It looked really good. And MJ ate her fill.

And now we’re heading off to Graceland where we have VIP tour tickets waiting for us courtesy of Jana of Justine Magazine. Am I excited? Put it this way: only MJ is keeping me from hyperventilating.

In short: I LOVE MEMPHIS.

  1. They thought about calling it Larbalestier but were worried people wouldn’t be able to spell it.
  2. Once were Joseph-Beth.

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20. Guestblog on Teenreads

Today I blogged about over here. Those of you who’ve been wondering about the process of writing Liar might find it interesting.

Today I prepare for my appearance in Larchmont tonight and the many appearances I’m doing next week in Seattle and Portland. Then I’ll be at the Teen Lit Festival in Austin next Saturday. That’s quite a temperature range. Packing’s going to be fun!

For those of you who only read the posts and not the comments, you really need to check out the comments on the White Writer Advantages thread and the Hating Female Characters one. People are being astonishingly smart.

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21. Adults Reading YA

Today Louisville’s Courier-Journal has a most excellent article about adults reading YA by Erin Keane. I don’t just say that because I was interviewed for it, but because the article is smart and non-sensationalist, and includes some actual facts:

Young adult fiction’s appeal has grown way beyond the school library. What was once considered entertainment for kids has become big business for adults, who are increasingly turning to the children’s section for their own reading pleasure, according to publishing experts.

Nielsen’s BookScan predicted U.S. book sales will remain flat this year, but amid this industry slump, sales of young-adult titles are expected to continue to rise. It’s not only teenagers who are browsing the shelves

There’s no hint of panic about this anywhere in the article. In fact, you get the impression that adults reading the amazingly wonderful YA books out there is a good thing.

Pinch me now.

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22. Last Night’s Event

The event at Books of Wonder with Libba Bray, Kristin Cashore, Suzanne Collins, me and Scott last night was astonishing. Several people said they thought there were around 200 people there. I could not possibly guess from where I was sitting, but it did indeed appear to be many.

Here’s my bad fuzzy photo of the many:

It was pretty overwhelming to be on the bill with such popular writers, especially Suzanne Collins. For those who don’t know, her two most recent novels, Hunger Games and Catching Fire are currently, and have been for some time, numbers one and two on The New York Times bestsellers list, selling bajillions of copies a week. The Books of Wonder appearance was organised around Suzanne because it was her only signing for Catching Fire. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Peter Glassman (the owner of BoW) thought to ask me to take part. Here’s Suzanne in action (with Libba Bray listening carefully):

I’d never met Suzanne before. She’s lovely, smart and gently funny. She, me and Libba had a fun conversation about the joys (meeting wonderful teens, booksellers, librarians) and travails (food poisoning) of touring. She’s also extraordinarily generous, giving up a big chunk of her presentation to talk in detail about how much she’d loved Liar, Fire,1 Leviathan and Going Bovine. Thank you, Suzanne.

I’d never met Kristin either and she also turned out to be lovely. I don’t know what it is about the YA world but almost all the authors I’ve met have been fabulous.2 It’s such a wonderful community to be part of.

It was only overwhelming at first then it quickly became relaxing. For most of my tour, I’ve done solo events with all the attention on me, but last night I could sit back and watch how other YA authors answer questions about how they come up with names, where they get their ideas, and which characters they like best.

Suzanne and Kristin were both so thoughtful and smart, providing little glimpses into how they work. They both have detailed maps of the imaginary worlds they’ve created. It sounds like Kristin’s world encompasses gazillions of countries and large swathes of time. Very Tolkienesque. Libba Bray remains one of the funniest people on the planet and I don’t just say that because she’s a dear friend of mine. As does Scott.3 Last night’s event made me want to stick to doing events with other people. Not just because it’s more fun for me, but also because it felt like the audience gets more out of it too.

What do you think?

One event I’m dying to do is me and Libba talking about unreliable narrators. For those of you who haven’t read Going Bovine you really should. We wrote Liar and Going Bovine at the same time and commented on each other’s early drafts. I can’t tell you how deeply eerie it was to discover we were both writing unreliable narrators and how many resemblances there were between our books even while they were also extremely different. Going Bovine is hysterically funny; Liar not so much. I think our two books work amazingly well side by side. Turns out I am not the only one to notice this.

Maybe some time next year we’ll be able to talk about our books, their unreliability, and how hard they were to write side by side. Fingers crossed!

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23. Guest Post: Ask Editor Alvina

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much in February. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

Today we have an editor, Alvina Ling, who’s more than happy to take your questions about her job of editing. Remember, that she’s writing specifically about what it’s like to work in publishing in the USA. The job of editing is different in different countries. I’m hoping to be able to bring you a post by some Australian editors to give you a sense of some of those differences. Enjoy today’s wonderfully informative post.

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Alvina Ling is a Senior Editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers where she has worked for over ten years. She has also been a bookseller for Barnes and Noble, and interned at the Horn Book and in the children’s room of the New York Public Library. She edits children’s books for all ages, from picture books to young adult novels, with some nonfiction mixed in. Some of the books she has edited include Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young; The Curious Garden by Peter Brown; Eggs by Jerry Spinelli, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, Geektastic by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci, and the upcoming Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (April). She can be found at her blogs bluerosegirls and bloomabilities as well as her twitter feed.

My job as a children’s book editor

Hi all! I’m honored to be a guest blogger here. Justine has asked me to give you folks an idea of what the job of a children’s book editor entails. Warning: this is not going to be a short post. But I do hope it will be an informative one.

I’d say the job of a children’s book editor consists mainly of:

Emailing, project management, acquisition of book projects, meetings, preparing for meetings, cheerleading, reading, selling, networking, juggling, negotiating, more emailing. Oh yeah—and editing.

Basically, the role of an editor in terms of the publishing process is that of a project manager, with books being the “project.” Publishers generally publish their books according to lists. Little, Brown has two lists a year: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. I generally handle five to eight titles per list, or ten to sixteen per year. As the editor, I’m involved every step of the way. I also think of the editor as being a juggler—we have to keep multiple projects moving at the same time. And if you imagine juggling objects that change each time they reach your hands, that’s kind of what the publishing process is like. For example, we review a first draft of a manuscript, and then a second, and then a third, and eventually a final draft. Then it goes to copyediting where it changes again. Then it goes to Design and Production and it changes again. I review each stage of the project until we end up with the final book, working closely with copyediting, design, and production. My duties also include things such as writing catalog and jacket copy, presenting my books at Sales meetings, coordinating with marketing and publicity, and in general just being the go-to person for my titles.

Right now, I’m working on editing the novels on my Spring/Summer 2011 list, while at the same time reviewing 1st-pass pages (this is when the book is designed and typeset so it looks like the finished book will look like) of novels on my Fall/Winter 2010 list. I’m also reviewing color proof of my Fall/Winter 2010 picture

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24. Guest Post: Carol Cooper on the Death of Print Media

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

Today’s guest, Carol Cooper, is one of an increasingly rare breed, a working journalist. I have known her for many, many years now. I suspect since my first visit to NYC back in 1993.1 She’s a wonderful writer and friend and knows what she’s talking about on many, many, many topics, but most especially journalism. All heed what she has to say.

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Carol Cooper is a NY born and based cultural critic, who also enjoys an active online presence at www.rocksbackpages.com and www.carolcooper.org.

Carol says:

So many possible topics, so little time!

As soon as our ever gracious host Justine offered me this guest spot, I started agonizing over how best to use it. I’m sure my concern is an occupational hazard, since the job of a freelance journalist is to pitch her editors the most compelling story of the moment . . . ideally before any other journalist has already written about it.

But . . . as you may have heard . . . rules and opportunities in the news game have, well, changed. Not long ago one of the papers I still sometimes work for ran a cover story they chose to illustrate with a little zombie paperboy dressed in Depression-era drag under the headline: “Print is Undead.” In a similar mood of gallows humor, the same publication also ran an education story which paraphrased the musical question: “I just graduated from J-school . . . what WAS I thinking?”

In the past few years the precipitous decline in print media advertising and circulation has forced even the most famous newspapers and magazines—like the New York Times and the Kirkus book review organ—to the brink of economic extinction. Established daily newspapers in big cities like Detroit, Chicago and San Francisco have already bitten the dust, and even online-only news and lifestyle publications continue to shrink and die due to staff cuts on a daily basis.

Now I don’t cover the war/politics/police-blotter/hard copy beats that normally put the “news” in newspapers . . . I’m a pop-culture reporter. And I’ve discovered it’s not really pop-culture reporting that suffers when printed publications vanish. What suffers—especially when online versions of respected newspapers fail to make any money by offering reportorial content on a daily basis, is a factual, archivable and informed analysis of economic and political events in real life as it happens.

Web-based information sources get plenty of traffic to sources of gossip, entertainment and opinion. But far fewer readers flock to .gov sites to read a thousand pages of a health care reform bill for pleasure. Even the less intimidating summary of such important information is harder to find and consume than the average Twitter feed or celebrity blog. The web makes it too easy to narrow our focus to only those subjects you already like or know about. And the web is a much greater time-gobbler than any print publication. What a good newspaper or magazine using a large diverse staff of writers is supposed to do is design a seductive, well-researched, and easily portable package of information providing insightful glimpses into every possible area of human interest.

The music, book, film, and nightlife reporting I like to do needs to be part of that larger package to have the kind of impact I want my work to have. Art, philosophy, and c

2 Comments on Guest Post: Carol Cooper on the Death of Print Media, last added: 3/2/2010
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25. Kendra

Last week I mentioned how much I loved Coe Booth’s Kendra. I have much to say about this book but let me start with the notion of realism. I am on the record as saying that I am not a fan. Yet Kendra is indisputably realist. It is set in the real world. There are no zombies, vampires, space ships or magic. So how can I say I don’t like realism when I love Kendra?

Last night I was called on my anti-realism stance. It turns out that when I say I don’t like realism I’m talking about a very specific kind of book. I don’t like most John Updike or Philip Roth. I disliked Joseph O’Neil’s Netherland. When I say I don’t like realism what I mean is that I don’t like unplotted books with protags who are naval-gazing bores. I need plot! I need texture! I need to care one way or another about the main characters! Something other than complete indifference.

I had strong reactions to all the characters in Kendra. Very strong. I wanted to kill Kendra’s mother. And sometimes her grandmother and father. But never Kendra. I worried about Kendra. At the end of the book I had a big ole cry for Kendra. Several weeks after finishing the book I’m still hoping Kendra’s doing okay and that things work out better with her mother. Colour me, cautiously optimistic.

Kendra’s set in the Bronx and Harlem in New York City. It’s the story of a girl who was raised by her grandmother because her mother, Renee, had her at the age of 14. Rather than give her life over to looking after Kendra she concentrates on getting educated and out of the projects. At the beginning of the book Renee graduates from her PhD program at Princeton. Kendra thinks this means Renee’s coming home. It doesn’t. Kendra’s desparate need for her mother’s love and approval and Renee’s ignoring of her is almost painful to read about. She does everything she can to keep her daughter at arms length. Her priority is her career, not her daughter. Did I mention that I wanted to kill her? In the meantime Kendra’s left with her overprotective grandmother who does not trust her at all. (Thus making me want to strangle her.) And occasionally her hapless father.

I will not tell more of the plot and characters. I want you to discover them yourselves.

What’s remarkable about Kendra other than its effortlessly clean and elegant prose is that you wind up understanding everyone in it no matter how much you want to strangle them. It’s also an astonishingly honest novel, rendering Kendra’s actions understandable even when she’s making mistakes. There’s a lot most of us will do to be loved. And that’s what this novel is about.

Highly highly recommended.

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