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1. Value of Publishing Options

One of the discussion forums I’m on asks why authors would continue to try to go the traditional publishing route now that there are e-books and self publishing? First off, self-publishing has always been an option. The difference today is that e-books provide an easier, much more pervasive vehicle for self-publishing than what print-only offered in the past. So one of the questions that really needs to be asked is what value does traditional publishing provide over self-publishing?

Some of the values that self-publishing delivers, includes:

  • No barriers to entry (This is also a negative, since it opens the floodgates to low quality stories)
  • Faster time to market
  • More control
  • Higher royalty percentage (However, this doesn’t necessarily promise higher actual revenue)

Some of the values that traditional publishing delivers, includes:
  • Built-in distribution sales channel and marketing for both print and electronic versions
  • Team of seasoned experts that contribute to all aspects of the book publishing journey, such as story editors, line editors, cover artists, layout designers, PR people, salespeople, production team, and more.
  • Inherent stamp of approval for major book chains and distribution channel in terms of book quality
  • Inherent stamp of approval for readers in general (While this might eventually become less of a factor as ebooks evolve, with some exceptions I believe for the present most readers will choose traditionally published books over self-published)
  • Higher chance of success (While I don’t have numbers to back this up, I would predict that on average traditionally published books have a higher per-book sell-through rate than self-published books. Please feel free to provide numbers that confirm or dispute this)

Of course there are cons to both options too. Self-publishing typically requires an upfront investment by the author as well as increased marketing effort by the author. Even though traditional publishing is requiring more from its authors in terms of marketing, it’s hasn’t yet reach the level required by the self-publisher for success. Traditional publishing also has cons, the foremost of these being that it has a very high barrier to entry. Some feel that barrier is too high. For me there is actually value in that barrier and it’s worth it to me to spend years and significant effort breaking through it. I also place significant value on having a team of experts backing me up. I look at that as a key ingredient to my long-term success as an author.

So, the question really comes down to, what do you want as an author? If you’re a great marketer yourself, if you don’t think you need the expertise that publishers provide or you just simply want to have a book published, then self-publishing might be your best publication path. If you want a team of experts to contribute to your success and you’re willing to put the effort in to join their team, traditional publishing might be the best route.

While to some, this post might seem like a contradiction to my post of the other day, it’s really not. Both publishing routes deliver a set of values, but the importance of each those values will change based on individual author perspective and as the publishing landscape continues to evolve and change in the wake of the digital revolution.

Also, I know that the above is just a short list of the values of both routes offer. Feel free to add to the list in your comments below.

6 Comments on Value of Publishing Options, last added: 10/28/2011
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2. Advice to Aspiring Authors

Every once in a while I'm contacted by aspiring writers for advice on how to get started as a children's book author.  Whether they want to write picture books, chapter books or YA, my advice is pretty much the same. First I tell them that it’s great that they’re interested in writing a children’s/YA book, but then I warn them that having a children’s book published is not an easy endeavor. It’s a very competitive business. A single publisher might receive about 20,000 manuscripts in a single year from potential authors. Of those 20,000, the publisher might publish anywhere between 5 and 30 books, depending on the publisher’s size and needs. I don’t say this to discourage them, but I say it to give them the proper perspective of what they’re getting into.

If they’re serious in their publishing pursuit, here are some of the main suggestions I give them:

1. Attend local or national children's writing conferences. Not only will writing conferences teach you much of what you need to know, they're great places to make contacts with other authors as well as editors and agents. Preferably, you’ll want to look for conferences where national authors, editors, and agents attend to present their insights on writing and getting published. A good resource for finding about some of those events can be found at www.scbwi.org/Regional-Events.aspx.

2. Join a critique group. A critique group can give you objective advice on your stories. Once again, SCBWI is a good resource for finding out about local critique groups. Even if you’re not a member of SCBWI, the regional coordinator for your area would likely be happy to tell you about critique groups in your area. (www.scbwi.org/Pages.aspx/Regional-Chapters).

3. Attend writing workshops. Quite often different published authors offer workshops. This might be authors local to your area or ones that happen to be visiting your area in conjunction with a book tour. Simply do a Google search for writing workshops in your area.

4. Do your research. Read different books on writing children’s books.  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold Underdown is a good book to read, as is the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market by Writer’s Digest. For longer works, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas is an excellent resource. There are also a lot of Web sites and blogs with good information too, such as www.underdown.org and www.verlakay.com.

5. Reads lots of current children’s books. If you’re not reading what’s being written and bought today in your genre of choice, you won’t have the familiarity you

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3. Stuff You Should Know

coming August 1

Daisy Lockhart escapes to Paris after her long-term boyfriend ends their relationship via email. As her meticulous, purpose-driven personality (she travels with supplemental oxygen) is challenged, so are her mind and heart tested by brooding, beautiful Mathieu, who's as enigmatic as the city itself.

Plum Blossoms author Sarah Hina
I've already finished Plum Blossoms. If your favorite thing to do is watch WWF, if your favorite food is a bag of Cheetos, if your address is mobile, this book is probably not for you. Everyone else should jump at the chance to read this, Sarah Hina's debut novel.

Plum Blossoms in Paris will be officially released on August 1. Stay tuned for my review (5 stars) as well as an interview with Sarah.  Also, check out the Flash Fiction contest (see below) to win your own copy!

coming in September
(copy taken from author's site)

Sixteen-year-old Evie's job is bagging and tagging paranormals. Possessing the strange ability to see through their glamours, she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency. But when someone--or something--starts taking out the vamps, werewolves, and other odd beasties she's worked hard to help become productive members of society, she's got to figure it out before they all disappear and the world becomes utterly normal.

Paranormalcy will be released September 21. Win an ARC (see below) by dazzling the pants off Kiersten White!

get born magazine ARTICLE

I submitted to get born magazine on a Friday and by Monday kne

2 Comments on Stuff You Should Know, last added: 7/12/2010
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4. CROSSED WIRES by Rosy Thornton

Crossed Wires
Crossed Wires
by Rosy Thornton

December 11th 2008 by Headline Review
Hardcover, 320 pages
0755345541 (isbn13: 9780755345540)
Fiction/Literature, Romance, British

4 of 5 stars

"Autocare Direct Motor Insurance."

Mina - Wilhemina - is a young, single mother who works at the Sheffield call center for car insurance. Peter is a Cambridge geography professor who's just crashed his car into a tree stump. They're both single, both parents. In America, this would be a definite One Fine Day type of hit. But they're not in America; they're in England. And the class difference between them is palpable, pronounced. Throw in Peter's colorful next door neighbors, Mina's deadbeat little sister, and three of the most fun children in literature, and you've got a full-on MIAM (Make It A Movie).

I almost hate to recommend Crossed Wires as a MIAM, so read it first before Thornton sells a screenplay. Thornton's writing is so cozy - the written equivalent of a roaring fire and the perfect pot of tea. She's speaks directly to those of us who grew up and/or raised children during Harry Potter. She makes Dr. Seuss references. She speaks directly to so many experiences - male couples who have lived together their whole lives but never clarified their relationship; parenting twins; scraping by on just enough money; reading in a university library. Your feeling is that she must have snuck into your brain and shared your experiences, so keen are her portrayals.

I waited to review this novel until the leaves started changing here in Colorado. Crossed Wires involves bonfires and New Year's and coats and boots, so it's not the best summertime read. As a fall read, it's excellent. Buy it if you're a romance (but not erotic romance) fan (think Sleepless in Seattle), or check it out if you're not - though you'll probably end up buying it anyway.

2 Comments on CROSSED WIRES by Rosy Thornton, last added: 9/24/2009
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5. Book Bits #4: Middle Grade Classics

Book Bits are mini-mini-reviews of books 
that I either don't have the time or inclination to review fully.  
However, I have read in entirety the books mentioned.

Editor's Corner

"Even though my daughter Anna is entering the 6th grade, she still enjoys it when I read to her at bedtime.  We have been reading E.H.Gombrich's A Little History of the World,which is a delight to read aloud-the tone is conversational and easy, and historical figures are described in all their humanity, flaws and all. It opens up ample opportunities for us to marvel at how things used to be.

It's harder to make room for read-aloud time now, as much as Anna enjoys it, because she is also increasingly absorbed with her own reading.  Recently Anna enjoyed The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Compound.  I'm watching her grow more and more passionate about books, but so far-knock on wood-that hasn't diminished her enthusiasm to be read to at night!"

-Sally Doherty, Executive Editor, Henry Holt BYR

A Royal Pain (Point) A Royal Pain
by Ellen Conford
September 1990 by Point
Paperback, 171 pages
0590438212 (isbn13: 9780590438216)
3 of 5 stars
what Meg Cabot read to get the inspiration for The Princess Diaries. Conford's novel is what would have happened if Mia had been mistaken.
Running Out of Time
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Running Out of Time (An ALA Best Book for Young Adults)2004 (first published 1995) by Scholastic
Paperback, 184 pages
0439632501 (isbn13: 9780439632508)
4 of 5 stars
hard to summarize without spoiling; you should read this especially if you grew up in the Midwest
Just in CaseJust in Case
by Meg Rosoff
February 29th 2008 (first published 2007) by Plume
Paperback, 246 pages
0452289378 (isbn13: 9780452289376)
3 of 5 stars
Rosoff's dark indie humor reminds me why I'm not really a fan, but not because she's not a skilled writer
by Meg Cabot
August 1st 2007 by HarperTeen
JinxHardcover, 272 pages
0060837640 (isbn13: 9780060837648)
3 of 5 stars
speaking of Queen Meg, this is a fun Practical Magic-meets-Gossip Girl novel with teen romance that's appropriate for younger readers (middle grade)

8 Comments on Book Bits #4: Middle Grade Classics, last added: 8/21/2009
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6. Children's Book Bits #1

The OK Book The OK Book 
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

April 24th 2007 by HarperCollins
0061152552 (isbn13: 9780061152559)
3 of 5 stars
Turn "OK" on its side and you've got the stick figure of a kid! Rosenthal's character explores a lot of way that he/she is "okay." The book is better than okay, but not great - a little long, a little overly "precious." Still a great one to get from the library to read to your own kidlings.

Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-ZooProfessor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo
by Mercer Mayer
September 7th 2001 (first published 1976) by School Specialty Publishing
157768687X (isbn13: 9781577686873)
 4 of 5 stars
a more playful version of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, this book is the story of Professor Wormbog, who can't see things right under his nose.  I was a little sensitive to all the animals he kept in cages, but mostly this is a fun romp of a book.  Another one to get from the library.
Jamaica Louise JamesJamaica Louise James 
by Amy Hest
August 5th 1996 by Candlewick
Hardcover, 32 pages
1564023486 (isbn13: 9781564023483)
3 of 5 stars
sweet story about a budding NYC artist who lives with her mother and grandmother; too wordy for preschoolers, best for older kids, maybe ages 6 and up

Wombat WalkaboutWombat Walkabout
by Carol Diggory Shields
March 19th 2009 by Dutton Juvenile
Hardcover, 32 pages
0525478655 (isbn13: 9780525478652)
 4 of 5 stars
a counting poem chock-full of Australian terms and equally whimsical artwork; for preschoolers and older (there's a dingo who wants to eat the wombats)

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters (Reading Rainbow Book) Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters
by John Steptoe

March 31st 1987 by Amistad
Hardcover, 32 pages
0688040454 (isbn13: 9780688040451)
4 of 5 stars
one of my favorite stories from around 5th grade or so when I fell in love with fairy tales; an excellent gift book for any little girl who's learning what it means to be a princess; unparalleled artwork

5 Comments on Children's Book Bits #1, last added: 8/1/2009
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7. SHADOWED SUMMER by Saundra Mitchell

Shadowed Summer Shadowed Summer
by Saundra Mitchell

February 10th 2009 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Hardcover, 192 pages 
0385735715    (isbn13: 9780385735711)

rating: 4 of 5 stars

 "Nothing ever happened in Ondine, Louisiana, not even the summer Elijah Landry disappeared."

Iris spends lazy summer days with her best friend, Collette, practicing spells and magic more to combat boredom than from any conviction in witchcraft. One afternoon Iris is contacted through these spells by the ghost of Elijah Landry. Elijah was born and died before Iris was born, and no one in Ondine knew what happened to him. Along with Ben, Collette's new "boyfriend," the girls work on solving the mystery Elijah's disappearance.

I'm hard-pressed to find anything lacking in this, Saundra Mitchell's debut novel. The pacing moves an original plot along nicely, the characterizations are deft and believable, and I assume that Mitchell's screenwriting background is what makes her dialogue so expertly natural. She writes small-town Southerners authentically, without stereotyping.

What I love most about SHADOWED SUMMER, though, is that that Mitchell doesn't sacrifice an absorbing story for anything inappropriate for her target age group. The 14-year-old girls are aware of boys and kissing, but Iris has reservations about being giggly and fake for them. Iris herself is a darling mix of preteen and teen, tomboy and girl, self-assured and self-doubting. In other words, her character reads just like that of a real kid.

This is definitely one I'll encourage my own kids to read (in ten years), and one I'd feel comfortable giving a girl in grades 6-9 as a gift, even if I didn't know her very well. While I'm not sure parent & grandparent aged folks (male and female) would like to own this volume, they would enjoy it as a quick read from the library.

 Reverie's review; Pub Story with Reviewer X; Juicilicioussss Reviews; and For the Love of Books

5 Comments on SHADOWED SUMMER by Saundra Mitchell, last added: 7/31/2009
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8. UNDISCOVERED GYRL by Allison Burnett (review, sort of, and CONTEST)

Undiscovered Gyrl (Vintage Contemporaries Orig) Undiscovered Gyrl
by Allison Burnett

August 11th 2009 by Vintage
Paperback, 320 pages
0307473120 (isbn13: 9780307473127)

From the publisher:

Beautiful, wild, funny, and lost, Katie Kampenfelt is taking a year off before college to find her passion. Ambitious in her own way, Katie intends to do more than just smoke weed with her boyfriend, Rory, and work at the bookstore. She plans to seduce Dan, a thirty-two-year-old film professor. 

It seems like a great idea, an awesome book along the lines of If I Stay or Wintergirls.  Just watch the trailer:

The publisher  continues:

Katie chronicles her adventures in an anonymous blog, telling strangers her innermost desires, shames, and thrills. But when Dan stops taking her calls, when her alcoholic father suffers a terrible fall, and when she finds herself drawn into a dangerous new relationship, Katie’s fearless narrative begins to crack, and dark pieces of her past emerge. 

Sexually frank, often heartbreaking, and bursting with devilish humor, Undiscovered Gyrl is an extraordinarily accomplished novel of identity, voyeurism, and deceit. 

Vintage itself has mounted a "huge, strange online campaign" fueled by social networking as its marketing strategy, complete with its own little army of grassroots publicists.

The biggest problem I have with this whole hoopla is that, while undiscovered gyrl is being marketed as a YA book, it's really an exercise in postmodern reflection that should only be undertaken with discussion and analysis.

In a book group or an English class or with a friend over coffee.

If you like (and understand) J.D. Salinger, this is the book for you.  Allison Burnett definitely seems to be the next Salinger.

I do not at all care for Salinger.

Though it will not be released until August 11, undiscovered gyrl has already caused a buzz in entertainment news because of the alleged reports last summer that Miley Cyrus will play the protagonist - even in the nude (Cyrus denies it as an internet rumor) in the movie version (something I've difficulty conceptualizing.  The movie, not Miley.)

Some bloggers (like Melissa) love undiscovered gyrl, some hate it (Holly is one), some find it disturbing (like Kelly does).  Some aren't sure.  Reviews can be submitted by site users at the original undiscovered gyrl site.

However, I can find few who have really analyzed it.  I'm not ready to do so here because so few people have read it yet.  But I will say that if you need a topic for a paper, the societal perceptions Burnett invokes by using the word "gyrl" is a good place to start.  And that I'm absolutely astonished at the number of people who say they can "relate to Katie."

You may remember that I questioned the validity of a white man writing a black point of view.  Well, how about a middle-aged man writing as a teenage girl?  Yes, that's right.   Allison Burnett is a man.

So much more about the novel makes sense, knowing that.  It shouldn't, I understand.  An author's genitalia have nothing to do with plot and structure and style.  But what I perceived as poor characterization instead is explained by gyrl's publicist, as intentional to a
novel [that] keeps readers guessing as to the identity of its narrator by “putting traditional point of view on its head and playing around with the major identity issues of our age.”
It's the whole point.   Burnett is a precipient interpreter of postmodern life.  To stop at the surface story is to miss the entire point of undiscovered gyrl.

Bottom line? I didn't care for this book, and I can't get it out of my head.  I can't even say that about Catcher in the Rye, which so failed to elicit response from me that I forgot it pretty quickly.  I might decide I like undiscovered gyrl (though I doubt it.)  I need someone with whom I can marinate on it.

So here's the contest:

When I post this article on the undiscovered gyrl site, I'll be eligible for two additional ARCs of the book.  Help me circulate this post and get chances to receive one of them.  I will pass one ARC on to the person who can generate the most traffic to my site and one to the person who submits the best reason I'd want to discuss this book with him or her.  Shameless plugging?  Yes, but I also really, truly think this is a book whose true nature needs to be known.  Think of it as me keeping Starbucks in business, since you'll be headed there for delicious intellectual chats over the enigma that is undiscovered gyrl.

You're responsible for letting me know if someone sent you here, if you share this on any social network, or if you beat it out in smoke signals;  and/or for convincing me you are the right discussion partner for this novel.   Leave comments or email me at aerinblogs AT aol DOT com. 

11 Comments on UNDISCOVERED GYRL by Allison Burnett (review, sort of, and CONTEST), last added: 8/2/2009
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9. FLOWERS FOR ELVIS by Julia Schuster

Flowers For Elvis Flowers For Elvis
by Julia Schuster

April 1st 2009 by Bell Bridge Books
Paperback, 248 pages
0982175612 (isbn13: 9780982175613)

rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Elvis Aaron Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley on January 8, 1935 in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi."


"I came into this world and left it on the same day."

Set against the backdrop of the 1960s South, Flowers for Elvis tells the story of fraternal twin girls. One of the babies, Olivia, dies immediately after being born. Meanwhile, her sister continues to be raised as the twin sister of her cousin, born three days later. Olivia's spirit, however, lingers, observing with a wry fondness the twists and turns of her sister's turbulent life.

Though Schuster's Catholic tendencies (which tend to be traditional, somewhat conservative, but not fundamentalist) are obvious, she uses them honestly in her perception of Olivia's story, rather than a tool with which to preach to the audience. Because the first chapters are about Olivia's birth and death and encounter with the Mother Superior who buries her, I worried a little about getting through the rest of the book. I stumbled, a bit, over Olivia's brief encounters with God and the capitalized pronoun "He," since that doesn't reflect my own theology nor a common use in progressive churches. I'm not sure whether Schuster's trying to capture the time period of the modernist church or just mirroring her own beliefs (she's a religion teacher in Memphis, TN.)

The good news is, things markedly improve once the awkward introductions have been made. I marked the page in this book where my interest was finally captured. Page 38. It takes Schuster, a fellow former Louisville-ian, that long to get into an otherwise strange and charming tale. Willard and Genevieve, Anna Beth and Louisa evoke the Practical Magic sisters or the women from Fried Green Tomatoes. They are strong, flawed characters, loving and willful and impatient and wise.

By the end of Flowers for Elvis, I was captivated by this story. It helps that there's a twist I didn't expect - it's hard to surprise me - and an ending that might be one of the most perfect (in that same strange, charming way) endings I've ever read.

If you're an Elvis fan, you should just buy this book. Every chapter is headed with an Elvis reference, and while the King never makes an appearance, Genevieve does regard him as her patron saint and ultimate Love Interest. If you're not an Elvis fan, you should still pick up a copy of this book. It's an excellent summer read, and, trust me, once you finish, you're going to want to pass it on so you can discuss it with your sister or mum or friend or book group.

Similar to:

Fannie Flagg

Barbara Kingsolver

Billie Letts

Many thanks to Bell Bridge Books for a review copy of this title.

View all my reviews.

3 Comments on FLOWERS FOR ELVIS by Julia Schuster, last added: 6/23/2009
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10. STARFINDER by John Marco

Starfinder: Book One of the Skylords Starfinder: Book One of the Skylords
by John Marco

May 5th 2009 by DAW Hardcover
Hardcover, 326 pages
0756405513 (isbn13: 9780756405519)

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moth was flying his kite near the aerodrome when he heard the dragonfly crash.
Young Moth had grown up in Calio, the mountain city, dreaming of becoming a Skynight, one of the elite pilots who flew the fragile, beautiful, newfangled flying machines called dragonflies. To the north of Calio stretched the Reach, looking like a sea of fog that never ended. Flat and peaceful, the mists of the Reach flowed all the way to the horizon, and Calio loomed over this vast forbidding expanse like a sentinel standing guard.

There were numerous tall tales about the lands beyond the Reach, and Moth heard the wildest of them from Leroux. Leroux, had once been one of the legendary Eldrin Knights, had taken guardianship of the ten-year-old when Moth's mother died. At first, Moth had been expecially fascinated by Leroux's stories of the Skylords, but at the grown-up age of thirteen, Moth was becoming increasingly skeptical about the existence of these mysterious, powerful and frightening beings from beyond the Reach.

When Leroux died, Moth was faced with an impossible task: to protect Lady Esme, Leroux's pet kestrel. And protecting Lady Esme meant venturing into the forbidden Reach with his best friend Fiona, to find dragons, battle Skylords, and discover the secret hidden within the kestrel herself.

It would be easy for me to ambiguously rave about Starfinder. As I said before, I loved it. But I know that others found it lacking, so I thought I would specify what I loved, so that you can judge whether you might use the same criteria as I.

1. It's intelligent.
The tone of the book doesn't condescend to readers. The narrative might be a little slow for someone only interested in action, but the metaphors and literary elements are delightful for those who choose to identify them. The language is lyrical but not flowery, with lots of good SAT words sprinkled throughout, in only appropriate places.

2. It's original....but familiar.

The Hindenberg meets Fantasyland? Heck, yeah. I never expected, plot-wise, what would happen next. The characters were complex enough to keep me guessing. And the Reach itself is a magical land created wholly by Marco, rather than lifted from the idea of some other one.

While the plot and characters are original, Starfinder, for me, had the feel of so many of my favorite worlds and authors and characters: Narnia, Neverland, Naussica of the Valley of the Wind, Anne McCaffrey, Lewis Carroll, Howl's Moving Castle, Xena - to name a few. In other words, this story felt very comfortable, both exciting and familiar, and that added to its charm.

3. It's got heart.
Marco is careful not to reduce any of the conflicts in Starfinder to dualisms. There are many shades of grey, and the reader is given a chance to think about what his or her own response might be even as Moth or Fiona make theirs. There's a great deal of affection - parental love, friendship - without romance playing much of a role in this book (other than, for example, a husband-wife who are obviously fond of each other.) Whatever the emotions, Marco elicits them organically, without resorting to cliches for loss or joy or anger or exhilaration.

Starfinder would make a great present for boys around ages 12 to 14 who like to read, or for reluctant boy readers ages 12 to 18. I wouldn't buy this for a girl unless I knew she was open to the strong female characters and didn't expect mushy romance. But everyone - everyone - should at least check it out from the library.

Starfinder book tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours.

9 Comments on STARFINDER by John Marco, last added: 6/13/2009
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11. The Plague by Joanne Dahme

The Plague The Plague
by Joanne Dahme

May 4th 2009 by Running Press Kids
Hardcover, 272 pages
0762433442 (isbn13: 9780762433445)

rating: 3 of 5 stars

"When I was George’s age, I had an unsettling dream about Princess Joan, and this was at a time when the princess was a stranger to me, known only through a flashing glimpse from a faraway vantage point.”

Nell and her younger brother George are escorting their parents’ bodies to the burial pit for plague victims when the King happens upon them.  He mistakes Nell for his own daughter, Princess Joan.  Without other future prospects, and determined to care for George, Nell agrees to become a companion to the princess, and, two years later, to escort Joan to Spain for her marriage to its prince.  The traveling party is unprepared, however, for the misfortunes they encounter when they land on the continent.  To save her little brother, Nell makes a dangerous agreement with the Black Prince, Edward Platagenet – an agreement which may put the entire country of England in jeopardy.

I found this to be a sweet little story.  It put me in mind of Karen Cushman’s The Midwife’s Apprentice or Catherine Called Birdy, though, frankly, The Plague lacks Cushman’s depth and finesse.  The Plague is supposed to be aimed at teens, but it seems more appropriate in a late-elementary or mid-grade marketing scheme.  The characters, while promising, don’t develop beyond a sort of idealized dualism (good vs. evil).  The plot is simple, but engrossing enough, and the vocabulary doesn’t quite reach SAT levels.

Having said that, it’s almost as though the lack of character development is intentional, because they show such potential.  Nell’s motivation is simple: she wants to protect her younger brother.  George, Nell’s brother, is slightly superstitious and actually has healing abilities (which he doesn’t discover until after his parents are dead.)  Together they’re protective and affectionate, which resonates with me because of the relationship I have with my own younger brothers.

A good summer read for just-graduated 5th or 6th graders.  A possible gift for a 5th, 6th, or 7th grader studying medieval Europe.  A super-fast, fun read for older fans of plague-fiction and people who hate rats.

4 Comments on The Plague by Joanne Dahme, last added: 6/1/2009
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12. Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace
by Ayelet Waldman

May 5th 2009 by Broadway
Hardcover, 224 pages
0385527934 (isbn13: 9780385527934)

  rating: 3 of 5 stars

 “The morning after my wedding, my husband, Michael, and I, were lying on a vast expense of white linen in the bridal suite of Berkeley’s oldest hotel; engaging in a romantic tradition of newlyweds the world over: counting our loot.”

(I didn’t realize until halfway through this book that the above-named Michael is Michael Chabon.  Don’t tell Moonie.  Waldman also went to law school with some guy named Barack Obama.)

Given the humorous quote on the front of the ARC I received, I expected Bad Mother to be equally humorous, possibly irreverent, and even somewhat flippant.  That’s not, however, how it begins.  Ayelet Waldman comes out swinging every ounce of intellectual muscle she’s got; she’s a formidable contender.  Bad Mother starts out less as a book of humor than as a feminist critique, almost scholarly and certainly political, of current expectations of women who are mothers.  With humor thrown in.  (A similar tactic is used by Jessica Valenti to soften the serious message in  Full Frontal Feminism.)

Waldman sets up her book with a chapter about “bad mothers,”  mothers like the the woman Waldman reprimanded on the bus who was yanking her daughter’s hair as she braided it.  Why do we obsess over “bad mothers”?  (Besides the fact that “worrying about egregious freak-show moms like Wendy Cook and Britney Spears distracts us from the fact that, for example, President George W. Bush cheerfully vetoed a law that would have provided health insurance to four million uninsured children.) By defining for us the kind of mothers we’re not, they make it easier for us to stomach what we are.

Waldman informally polled her friends to find definitions of Good Mothers and Good Fathers.  A definition of a Good Mother always involved self-abnegation: “she is able to figure out how to carve out time for herself without detriment to her children’s feelings of self-worth.”  The same people “had no trouble defining what it meant to be a Good Father.  A Good Father is characterized quite simply by his presence.”

She ends the first chapter with a question.  “Can’t we just try to give ourselves and each other a break?”  My good postmodern deconstructionist self cheered.  My brain and my heart were engaged.  I settled in for more discussion, re-thinking, and questions to spur us toward a new paradigm of expectations for motherhood.

After such an auspicious beginning, Bad Mother rolls into territory that is more memoir/social commentary, territory that is humorous, irreverent, and, at times, flippant.  Waldman spends the remaining seventeen chapters self-consciously bragging about what a fabulous partner and father Chabon is, enumerating what she perceives as her failures as a mother, and offering the mechanisms she used to cope with the fact of these "failures."

The underlying message from Waldman is: “Here are the terrible things I’ve done – just be glad you haven’t done anything this bad.”  After the conclusion to that first chapter, I’d hoped that Waldman would be proposing a different way of thinking; an entirely different way of analyzing motherhood. 

Granted, Waldman’s commentaries and anecdotes are both poignant and hilarious.  (“A Good Mother doesn’t resent looking up from her novel to examine a child’s drawing.”)  She's a hell of a writer.  From opinions about breast feeding and Attachment Parenting and sending snacks to preschool, to her own stories about terminating a pregnancy and about revelations concerning her own mother’s parenting style, Waldman's rich writing moves along smoothly, like a bottle pouring a nice merlot.  It’s certainly a book worth reading.

I wouldn’t buy this book for your own mother, but it would make a great gift between (or among) girlfriends, or for someone who considers Michael Chabon her secret boyfriend.  And, unless you live in Berkeley (as Waldman does, and reminds her reader…frequently) or Boulder, it would surely spark heated discussion in a book or moms’ club. And even if you’re not in love with Michael Chabon, I dare you to admit that there’s not some part of you that wants to be as wise and funny and erudite as Waldman when you grow up.

8 Comments on Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman, last added: 6/15/2009
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13. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay If I Stay by Gayle Forman

April 9th 2009 by Dutton Juvenile
Hardcover, 199 pages
0525421033 (isbn13: 9780525421030)

rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Everyone thinks it was because of the snow."

Because I try to maintain a no-spoiler policy in my reviews, I am using for a synopsis the wording provided by the publisher.

Choices.  Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love – music – even if it means losing her boy friend and leaving her family and friends behind?

The one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes.  Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one.  And it’s the only one that matters.

The words I’d use to describe this book have all been taken: “graceful,” “lovely,” “gentle.”  Also “page-turner,” “imaginative,” “haunting” and “stay-up-very-very-late-to-finish.”  Okay, maybe I’m the first to use that last phrase.

The plot is gripping, but it’s the characters in If I Stay that make it so unforgettable.  For example, when her little brother was born, Mia’s dad gave up his long hair and leather jacket, donned a bow tie and became a teacher.  And yet the transition was natural, and typical of the bonds that Forman so deftly creates in this close-knit and authentic family.  Adults are adults, teenagers are teenagers, and without preaching, Forman demonstrates how that dynamic grounds Mia.  Mia herself is the sort of protagonist you fall in love with, you root for, a narrator who easily steps into the ranks of Bella and Hermione.

I’ve thought and thought, but I don’t think this book will appeal to teen guys.  Otherwise, I’d recommend the book for anyone high school or older.  I would also highly recommend it as a library check-out for parents and grandparents of teens.

6 Comments on If I Stay by Gayle Forman, last added: 5/21/2009
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14. Exodus by Julie Bertagna

Exodus Exodus
by Julie Bertagna

April 1st 2008 (first published 2002)
by Walker Books for Young Readers
Hardcover, 352 pages
0802797458 (isbn13: 9780802797452)

 rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Once upon a time there was a world. . .a world full of miracles.”
Mara Bell is fifteen years old and the exact image of her grandmother Mary. She lives on Wing, an island in the northern part of an Earth nearly drowned by the melting of the polar ice caps.  The waters are continuing to rise, and Mara must trust the instincts she inherited from the strong women in her family.  She convinces her neighbors to flee the island for refuge in one of the sky cities, the tall feats of technology so high as to be safe from the storms and rising waters.  When they reach the nearest city, however, they are barred from entering and treated like so much refuse that is expelled from the white city itself.  Mara has to risk everything to save her people and the other refugees, and possibly fulfill a prophecy.  And the waters continue to rise.

The cover of the copy of Exodus that I got from the library there is a quote from The Guardian: “A miracle of a novel. . .a book you will remember for the rest of your life.”  I’m a theologian.  Floods and Exodus.  I remember another book with these phrases that have shaped my life.  I didn’t think another could.

I was wrong.  There is so much original, so much beautiful, so much of heartrending genius in this novel.  The plot moves quickly and effortlessly, there’s action and science-fiction and myth (Joseph Campbell style) and romance.  The best I can tell you is to run, run, run and read it yourself.

Read this book.  You’ll not be sorry.  Your heart and your head will reconnect with our own world of miracles.

10 Comments on Exodus by Julie Bertagna, last added: 6/1/2009
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15. For It's Root Root Root For the Home Team

Just a shout-out to my homeboy and fellow blogger Chris Barton for selling his second book to Little, Brown and Company. Under the mysterious moniker S.V.T. (I say he should keep it as the title) it's not a non-fiction book at all, which is verrry interesting. We will watch Mr. Barton's efforts with interest.

1 Comments on For It's Root Root Root For the Home Team, last added: 3/2/2007
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16. Q#4" Now that you are published, does your family appreciate your work? (3 of 3)

[info]jenlibrarian asks:  "Do your parents (children/spouses/household members) finally appreciate you/your work?




Absolutely! NOT!

Don't get me wrong, my family is my world. But they are very "in the box" job kind of people. Pretty much the only writing time I have is when my kids sleep so nobody ever sees me working so it's still like I don't. I suppose maybe when I get my cover they might realize what's happening, but I'm not holding my breath!

It was funny how no one had a problem asking me how much money I was going to make though! I just told them it depended on how many copies they bought


Marlane Kennedy (ME AND THE PUMPKIN QUEEN, Greenwillow/HarperCollins)


My family has always been great, even though it took me fourteen years to be published.  My father has been bragging to people for years that he had a daughter that was a children's book author.  Pre-contract I found that pretty embarrassing, but I appreciated the fact he thought what I was doing was worthwhile.  And now that I will actually have a book in print you can imagine how much more bragging he is doing.  My husband has always made time for me to write.  I can't even begin to count the number of times he has taken our kids places or entertained them so I coud have some quiet time to write without the usual interruptions.  Never once has he grumbled--even when it seemed like my writing was destined to be a hobby only.  He certainly was happy though, when the first advance check came in! 


Marissa Doyle (BEWITCHING SEASON, Henry Holt)


My family has always been very supportive, especially my uber-god of a husband who has, at times, been more sure of my selling than I have.  My children have slowly been trained not to go chat with Mommy while the door to her writing room is closed and have finally come to accept that this is my "job".  My 15 yr old son is one of my draft readers, and one of the first things one of the girls asked me was, "So we'll be able to go into Barnes & Noble and see your book there?  Wow!"

My one sadness connected with writing and family has to do with my father-in-law.  Although I don't think he's picked up a book since graduating from Marlborough College in VT after WWII, he himself wrote poetry and had an enormous respect for the written word.  When I first started writing about three years ago I found out that he was bragging to everyone about his daughter-in-law who was a writer, and how many manuscripts I'd completed, and so on...however, at about the same time (though we didn't know it) he was in the early stages of Lewy Body Disease, an Alzheimer's-like illness.  He still recognizes me about half the time when I stop in to see him, but as for being able to understand that I actually sold...no, not really.  I know how pleased and proud he would have been, and I'm very sad that I haven't been able to share the whole publishing process with him.


Sara Zarr (STORY OF A GIRL, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)


My husband has always been supportive and has taken me seriously ever since I took myself seriously, and I think my extended family has always been hopeful even when they didn't fully understand what I was doing. What a contract has done for me is make me more secure in how I talk about my writing and in my own identity. Those things were always bigger issues for me than what my friends and family thought.


Sarah Aronson (HEAD CASE, Roaring Brook Press)


My kids have been great.  We like to joke that while I've been writing and working toward an MFA, they've been raised by wolves.

Wolves make very good parents!!



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