After a marathon reading session, the judges for the 2007 Cybils in the Fantasy / Science Fiction category have selected their winners. And I’m happy to say, both were at the top of my personal lists.
The True Meaning of Smekday
by Adam Rex
Nothing has been the same since the Boov invaded Earth and re- named it Smekland. But things get even weirder when twelve-year-old Gratuity Tucci embarks on a journey to find her missing mother–accompanied by her cat (named Pig), a fugitive Boov (named J.Lo) and a slightly illegal hovercar–and realizes that there’s more at stake than just her mother’s whereabouts. A terrific satire with a touching ending and spot-on illustrations by the author, the novel is heartwarming and hilarious at the same time. Gratuity’s narrative voice as she struggles to define “the true meaning of Smekday” will draw readers in.
Nominated by jennifer, aka literaticat.
Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale
Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books
On her first day as a Lady’s Maid, Dashti finds herself locked in a tower for seven years with her Lady, who is being punished for refusing to marry the Lord of a neighboring land. Thus begins a life-and-death battle against evil and time. Lyrically written and set in ancient central Asia, this novel retells a little-known Brother’s Grimm fairy tale with desperate, heart-wrenching emotion. Readers will be drawn in by the beautiful language and fighting spirit of Dashti, whose faith, spunk and ingenuity affect not only the darkness of her tower, but also the hearts and futures of kings.
Nominated by Sarah Miller.
Behold J.Lo, in all his snowflakey glory!
Adam Rex is on of the illustrators who has donated a snowflake to the wonderful Robert's Snow auction to benefit the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute. He happens to be one of my favourite illustrators, and I was very happy that I snagged him when the ladies over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (also big fans...see here and here) were organizing this whole affair!
I think I first came to Adam Rex's work through Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. The second I spied the cover, I knew I had to have it. As a collector of Halloween picture books, I was so pleased not only with the art, but with the smart and funny poetry within. It's a killer for my Halloween read alouds with all kids loving the illustrations, and the kids with that sense of humour (you know the ones) splitting their sides over the content.
My next encounter (after searching for more) was with the Lucy Rose series. An early chapter book, featuring a feisty protagonist (what's not to love?). After that, I just wanted to read, and own everything. Fandom? Maybe...but I have yet to be disappointed.
Adam graciously agreed to answer some of my questions, as well as some questions from The True Meaning of Smekday loving kids at my school. So here we go.
Stacy: How did you get involved with Robert's Snow?
Adam: They tracked my email address down and got in touch in 2005–I think Grace Lin had seen my first book, The Dirty Cowboy (written by Amy Timberlake), and thought my work would compliment the collection.
Stacy: Did you always know that you wanted to be an illustrator? How did you figure out that writing and illustrating for children was for you?
Adam: I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind. I didn't think about writing and illustrating kids' books until I was in my teens, and working in a bookstore. When I became familiar with some of the titles coming out in the late eighties like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! and A Day With Wilbur Robinson, I realized there was a place for my sense of humor, and for the sort of art I wanted to make.
Stacy: How long were you cooking up The True Meaning of Smekday?
Adam: Oh, off and on for four or five years. At first it was just the fun project I worked on when I wanted to avoid my real work. So I started slowly. Then my agent sold it based on maybe the first third, and I worked more in earnest then. But I think some of the ideas go back further than that–I've long thought an alien invasion would be a good way to address our own history.
Stacy: How did you come up with the Boov Speak? I found that when I was reading Smekday, Boov speak stayed in my brain quite easily. Did you find yourself rearranging your words while you were writing?
Adam: Boovspeak comes kind of naturally to me–it's kind of an exaggeration of how I talk when I'm being lazy and there isn't anyone but my wife and me around. As I was working on Smekday I reached a point at which J.Lo's (my Boov's) speech came as quickly for me as did any other character's. I have not had for writing this way recentlies, so I am possibly notso much a Boovspeak Superstar as to before now. Hm.
Stacy: My students were asking about the "secret cover" on Smekday. The dust jacket image is different than the image that is physically on the book. What's the story?
Adam: No big story, really - I just came up with a number of images that I thought would make different covers for the book, and wanted to use as many of them as possible. People can peruse my July postings on my blog to see a little of how the cover evolved. I don't like to waste ideas, so I stuck runner-up covers beneath the dust jacket and on the title page. My books Tree Ring Circus and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich have "secret covers" as well, for various reasons.
Stacy: I have read that there is a sequel to Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich in the works. How is that going? Is the writing process for a collection of poetry vastly different than for a picture book?
Adam: It's written! Now I'm just figuring out the art. It will be called Frankenstein Takes the Cake. I've reported in other places that I thought it was going to be called Frankenstein Makes a Sequel
, but I was eventually talked out of that.
Writing in rhyme is different from writing prose, of course, for obvious reasons. Otherwise, writing something like one of my Frankenstein
books is, in a way, like writing a number of rhyming picture books at once. Many of the poems in FMaS
could have been expanded into full-length books if I'd thought that was the best way to present them.
Stacy: And here are some questions from my students who have been reading and loving The True Meaning of Smekday...
From an 8th grade reader: When you wrote the book, and didn't tell the readers some of the horrors of the aliens, did you know yourself? Or was it a mystery to you as well as the reader?
Adam: I don't know what details you're thinking about specifically, but I can definitely say that some things in Smekday were as much a mystery to me as I wrote as they will be to my readers. I wrote a lot without knowing exactly where the story was going, or how it would end, and trusted that I would figure it out eventually. That meant I had to go back from time to time and change some passages I'd written earlier so they'd fall in line with some plot detail I'd only just discovered. I didn't know at first, for example, that Gorg is not the name of the alien race, but rather that every member of the race is named Gorg. But it struck me at some point that having your planet invaded by, say, the Todd (a huge group of people who are all named Todd) or whatever would be funny.
From a 7th grade reader: How did you think of the characters and planets in The True Meaning of Smekday?
Adam: I thought a lot and drew a lot. When I felt like I had a good idea what the aliens were going to look like, their appearance helped me figure out what kind of people they were.
From another 7th grade reader: This book has so many characters and contraptions...it had a crazy plot. What or where did all of those ideas come from?
Adam: I was inspired by a lot of other books and movies and so forth, particularly the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy by Douglas Adams. But my ideas come from the same kind of places everyone's ideas come from -- you all the stories you've read, the movies and TV shows you've seen, things other people have old you, then maybe you mix it up with some other stories and ideas that don't seem to have anything to do with the first stories and ideas, then you run it all through the dirty coffee filter of your brain and, if you're lucky, it comes out looking and smelling like something brand new.
Stacy: Since it's Halloween and all, could you let us in on your favourite candy? Is it the same as when you were young or has your palate evolved?
Adam: I like gummi a lot these days, and it didn't really exist in America, as far as I knew, when I was a little kid. My earliest memories of Gummi Bears are from 6th or 7th grade. And yet Wikipedia tells me they've been around since the twenties. I don't know. I also love good dark chocolate, which as a kid I lumped in the same category as wine or coffee or kissing in movies -- things that only the mental illness of adulthood could cause you to like. When I was a kid I liked Butterfingers.
If you just can't stand it and you need some more, Adam Rex can be found all over the web. Here's a list of a few of the places that I found!
Nerds with Kids
Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty
And for the CONTEST! Just use the comments to tell me what YOUR favourite Adam Rex title is, and you will be in the running for a brand new shiny hardcover copy of The True Meaning of Smekday! Woot!
Guess the Plot
1. London, 1888. The city's upper crust are shocked by a series of grisly murders. Can Scotland Yard detective Miles Avery discover who is killing the flower girls of . . . Coldharbour Lane?
2. After years of struggle it looked like Winne Campbell's organic goat cheese would finally make her rich -- until the zombies showed up. Now Winnie and goat wrangler Jorge Santiago prepare to make their last stand on the roof of the barn, armed with only a potato cannon and the will to survive.
3. Chelsea is having trouble adjusting to her new home. None of the kids at school will talk to her. All of her teachers seem to want to expel her. But the real trouble begins when she runs afoul of the coven of vampires that keep her town perpetually shrouded in fog.
4. Mickey can't believe his luck when he lands a low-priced home on the waterfront--until the bodies start washing ashore. After recognizing one as his ex-wife, he starts to investigate. Big mistake. Will Mickey be the next body washed ashore at . . . Coldharbour Lane?
5. No one has lived there since the gruesome--and unsolved--murders three years ago. The Brownes know nothing about the murders when they buy the place. But they're about to find out the truth of what happened that night in the house on Coldharbour Lane. Will they survive to tell anyone else?
6. Michael buys a decrepit house, not realizing that the hippies next door have their marijuana crop on the property. What's worse, Michael's wife wants him to renovate the place into the world's greatest Georgian mansion, and Michael hates Georgian. Will their marriage survive the house on . . . Coldharbour Lane?
Coldharbour Lane is a 100,000 word mainstream novel about a family whose plans are always in ruins.
Michael Galbraith buys decrepit houses, lives in them with his wife and three children during [amidst] all the dirt and disruption of renovation, and then, once he's restored them to perfection, sells up and moves on to the next. It's not a hobby; it's his life. Any period can become his favourite, except Georgian, which he hates. [That sentence doesn't belong there.]
Wife Rachel, a Professor of History, specialises in everything Georgian, and wants to combine Michael's mania with her in-depth knowledge to create a more perfectly-restored Georgian mansion than the world has yet seen. [Here's a better place to tell us about Michael's seething hatred of all things from Georgia.]
For the sake of family harmony, Michael agrees to view three walls and a chimney known as 8 Coldharbour Lane. But when he discovers mysterious ruins in the grounds, his imagination is captured by a much more exciting project: recreating a long-lost Roman villa.
Living in a leaky caravan, he labours on the villa by day and the mansion at night. Rachel can't understand how he can work so hard, yet achieve so little. [In other words, she doesn't know about the villa? Why is he keeping it secret from her? Even if he works on the villa while she's at work, wouldn't she notice a Roman villa taking shape on her property?] And why is he reading up on mosaics rather than Muff glass? [That was going to be my next question.]
The renovation project meets with mixed reactions from their new neighbours. The Britisher-than-thou Dhaliwals at number 2 set out to trump Rachel's period knowledge; [You teach the Georgian era? Why, our ancestors lived during the Georgian era.] the hippies squatting at number 4 think [Michael's] son Josh could be naive enough to be duped into tending their marijuana crop (it's behind the villa); [Hey kid, do me a favor and water my . . . uh . . . geraniums, would you?] and reclusive Mr White at number 6 has been pilfering artifacts from the villa site for years, and doesn't appreciate competition. [If you've been looting your neighbor's back yard for years and you still haven't got everything you want, it's time to give someone else a shot at it.] [Is the book a comedy, or are the neighbors just comic relief? It didn't sound that amusing up to here.]
But when the Department for Culture Media and Sport decides to list the mansion--as is-- [Not clear to me what this means. List it in real estate listings? List it as a historic landmark?] and the same Man From The Planning Dept who took Michael to court over the Case of the Pictish Roundhouse serves an enforcement notice on the villa, [and] then the police seal off the marijuana 'crime scene', it seems as if all the Galbraiths' plans really are ruined. [What's an enforcement notice? What does the Planning Dept. plan? Would I know these answers if I lived in Britain? Is the query going only to British publishers?]
While I'm a fan of specificity, I'm not familiar with the Case of the Pictish Roundhouse, so its mention means nothing to me. You could just say a man from the Planning Dept, with whom Michael had a previous dispute/brush/encounter, serves . . .
Have you considered scrapping this book and writing The Case of the Pictish Roundhouse? It sounds intriguing.
There's gotta be a decrepit Georgian mansion in better shape than three walls and a chimney. The Galbraiths usually renovate places good enough to live in. Now, for a project that's supposed to end up as the most perfectly restored Georgian mansion the world has seen, they start with rubble from the Battle of Britain?
As Georgian architecture was heavily influenced by classical Roman architecture, why is a guy who hates Georgian so obsessed with a Roman villa?
I'm sure this is more interesting than just watching the excruciatingly slow progress of an archaeological dig, but I'm not seeing the thread that holds it all together and makes me want to know what happens next and next. At least if Rachel knew Michael was working on the villa instead of her Georgian mansion there'd be more conflict. Can you have Michael dig up a dead body?
Guess the Plot
Black Butterflies White Fences
1. Can Mike Buchanan, a severe ADD sufferer and international spy, remember his enigmatic password without the help of his meds? And what’s on the line if he can’t? Well, just a little thing called . . . the WORLD!
2. In this alternate history, General Mills incites race riots in 1962 Golden Valley, Minnesota when they choose inappropriate marshmallow shapes for their new kids' cereal, Lucky Charms. Sambo the Cuckoo Crow, who’s “wiggin’ for Darkie Puffs,” doesn’t help either.
3. She's rich, white, and married. He's single, black . . . and her son's basketball coach. Will their love lead to heartache? Or to the NBA championship?
4. In the cover of night, a band of rogue butterflies are defacing fences throughout the city. Can Detective Bumble assemble a dragnet to catch them?
5. Tasha Cohen's essay about an African-American girl's experiences in an all-white town won her a scholarship. But there's a problem: she wrote it in first person. What happens when the scholarship panel finds out she's not a sistah, but a JAP?
6. White paint is causing the rapid extinction of the black-winged air cleaner moth, but no one is listening to environmentalist Bill Blossom. Can he stop the chain of destruction in time to preserve the environment's only hope against Global Warming? Also, a talking vulture.
Dear Mr. XXXX;
I’m writing to you because back in 1997, I sent you a query for my first completed novel; you promptly wrote back, said that I had talent and should keep writing, but that you were not “enthusiastic enough” about that particular work; [Are you going to end all your sentences with semicolons?] I misinterpreted your comment, and to my now chagrin, sent you balloons to show my enthusiasm. [Let me get this straight. You received a rejection slip and thought it was a purchase order for balloons?] Does this sound at all familiar? [On the off chance that it will sound familiar, I recommend against opening with an admission that you're the one who sent the balloons.] [Now, are you going to talk about your new book?]
You have always been my first choice for an agent and have been keeping tabs on your agency from the time you first launched XXXXX's career, [A little research is a good thing; if you've been keeping tabs on an agency for ten years, you have too much time on your hands. ] to the more recent and previously unknown, XXXXX. I also remember reading somewhere that Mr. XXXX credits you with “plucking him from obscurity,” and may I say that I wouldn’t mind the same plucking. [WTP? Do you just like to correspond with agents who've sent you rejection slips, or do you actually have a new book?]
Your early encouragement was taken to heart and during the past ten years have continued to write, raised twin boys, completed an English degree and graduated cum laude, (I’m an RN by trade, but my heart has never been in medicine), [Nice to know that when my nurse is drawing my blood, her mind is on getting plucked.] but more importantly, have continued to work on the craft of writing and tried to learn as much as I can about publishing. [Something tells me you missed the lecture on writing a query letter, possibly while keeping tabs on agent XXXX. You're supposed to be talking about your book.]
BLACK BUTTERFLIES WHITE FENCES is commercial fiction and approximately eighty-two thousand words, and is about the lasting bond of friendship and love that develops between a white married woman of means, and her son’s black basketball coach. [That's all we get? Half of a sentence? Your paragraph about Mr. XXXXX had more information. Your single sentence about what you've been doing since your last query letter was twice as long. Heck, My Guess the Plot was more informative.]
I have enclosed the first thirty pages for review and appreciate your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Agents don't remember ten-year-old query letters, they know who their clients are, and until you're their client, they don't care about your life story. They want to know about your book. You're selling a product, and you need to make that product sound so interesting the agent simply must check it out. Read the other 332 "Face-Lifts" on this blog. Then start over.
Guess the Plot
Living with the Bull
1. Know-it-all Morton Sledge inherits a fortune from his grandfather's bedspread business, but will his millions distract beautiful Bunny Perkins from the fact that he's a crashing bore?
2. Evicted from her apartment, ostracized by her friends and coworkers, Jennifer begins to suspect it was a mistake to get a pit bull.
3. The new bull Mary hired to work in her china shop just isn't working out. Not only is her business tanking, local biker gangs start harassing her. That's when she finds that sometimes a bull can come in handy.
4. Prison romances don't always turn out happily ever after, but Corinne Pilch, Number 4411227, is in for life -- with the guard of her dreams.
5. "Dear, you look gorgeous today!"
"No, Mom, we didn't get any homework."
". . . and there's absolutely no obligation to buy!"
Esther Poncky has heard it all. It's just part of . . . Living with the Bull.
6. Despite what Bill says, he really isn't the reincarnation of Napoleon, the lost King of Sweden, or the heir to the Howard Hughes fortune. Nor is he the secret lover of Paris Hilton, or the love child of Elvis. Living with the Bull might be too much for some; but Naomi loves her husband and won't see him wrongfully prosecuted for murder.
Dear Evil Editor,
I am seeking representation for my novel, LIVING WITH THE BULL, complete at 72,500 words. [I hope all you people looking for agents and publishers are prepared to start . . . Living with the Bull.]
In LIVING WITH THE BULL, Jennifer felt like she was one letdown away from being back between her Strawberry Shortcake sheets at her parents’ house. [The only reason she didn't move back with them was because then she'd really be . . . Living with the Bull.] Then she meets Gwen, a woman her own age who spends her spare time rescuing dogs in the suburbs of Chicago. Jennifer wonders where Gwen hides her [matador's] cape, until she discovers that her friend’s utopian dog rescue more closely resembles a Tim Burton movie. Feeling betrayed by her friend, ["I trusted you, Gwen, but now I find out that your dog rescue operation is like a combination of Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, and Mars Attacks! You've betrayed me."] Jennifer wants to give Oscar, a pit bull, a second chance at a good life. [That might be a better place to start the query.] She hopes that saving him might rescue her, too. But she never expected that her commitment to put kibble in his bowl would turn into a civil liberties crusade.
Because of Oscar’s breed, Jennifer is accosted by strangers, [mauled at home,] and ostracized at work. It’s one thing to have to defend his reputation, but her level of commitment to Oscar and her ability to keep her own life afloat are tested when she is evicted from her apartment [Yes ma'am, I know your lease says pets are allowed. But your pet has eaten everyone else's pets.] and faced with a city council that wants to ban pit bulls entirely. [Plus, her crusade to have the Constitution amended to give pit bulls the vote is going nowhere.] LIVING WITH THE BULL is the story of a woman trying [to] navigate the worlds of dog adoption, prejudice, and twenty-something independence.
I earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, [so I am well-qualified to write about . . Living with the Bull.] where I won a Hopwood Award for Poetry. I have been active in animal rescue for over eight years and I currently sit on the Board of Directors of Pit Bull Rescue Central.
A full manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
The reason pit bulls have a reputation for aggression (besides the fact that the media always trumpets it whenever one of them kills a rhinoceros or a little league team) is because of their name. Pit bull sounds intimidating. Henceforth, let's go with Mellow Mutt.
Even if I correctly guess that you mean Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, it's still not clear how the Tim Burton reference shows betrayal. Dump it.
It's admirable that you want to incorporate your passion into a book, but I want to know more about what happens. All we've got is, woman adopts dog, woman loses all her friends. If you have a good story, tell us what it is. What's Oscar's past history? Was he Michael Vick's champion fighter? What does Jennifer need rescuing from? We'll care more about them if we know this. If their stories are boring, if you're mainly defending pit bulls, perhaps nonfiction is the way to go.