Title Quandary: Please Vote!

Françoise Bui, my editor at Delacorte, called to talk about my revision of a young adult novel tentatively scheduled for release in 2008. "So how's it going?" she asked.

"Great," I answered. "I've been thinking about the book while I sip coffee and watch the cardinals and blue jays play in the spruce tree outside my window."

Doesn't sound like I've been working hard, does it? But I have been. I've been preparing my psyche to delve once again into the plot, characters, and setting of this novel, a story that is much closer to memoir than any of my other books. It also might not have a happily-ever-after kind of ending -- a first for me.

Françoise also asked me to think of alternatives to the book's working title -- Asha Means Hope. I've thought of a couple of possibilities (The Secret Keeper or Family Secrets), but I need your help, Fire Escape visitors. Please cast your vote for the title that sounds the most intriguing in the sidebar to the right. I'll be back after the holidays to share the results, but in the meantime, stay safe, celebrate, and peace be with you.

December Edge Of The Forest

News from Big A little a: the December issue of your favorite on-line children's literature monthly is up. Enjoy the winter stroll along The Edge of the Forest.

Revision: Tips From Blume And Beyond

I love the possibilities in a literal take of the word "revision" -- to see your writing again, hopefully this time with fresh eyes. If you, like me, write ______ first drafts (pick up Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird to fill in the blank), why not peruse this fantastic (free!) on-line issue of Weekly Reader's Writing Magazine featuring tips and techniques on revision from the likes of Judy Blume and Lee Bennett Hopkins? (Source: Sandhya Nankani, editor, Writing Magazine)

Writing Electronic Issue
Download a PDF of the complete electronic issue of "Lending a Hand with Revision." (PDF–3.03 MB)

Revision is an essential stage of the writing process. It's not always easy, but all writers—even famous ones—do it. And so must you! In this handy guide from the editors of Writing you'll find exclusive advice from well-known authors and poets, examples of famous manuscripts, and simple prescriptions for better writing. Print it out. Read it. Study it. Put it in a three-ring binder. Save it. But, most of all, use it! We're pretty sure that it will help you grow into a stronger, more effective writer!
Welcome to Writing's Electronic Edition
Download individual sections of the magazine.
Feature Story
The Revision Files (PDF)

Manuscript Study | Revision Lessons from:
Judy Blume (PDF)
Lee Bennett Hopkins (PDF)
Student Writer Christian Garcia (PDF)

Grammar Slammer
Omit Needless Words (PDF)

With a Little Help from my Friends: The Gifts of a Writing Buddy (PDF)

Writing's Top 10 Tips for Revision (PDF)

Your Turn
You Be the Editor (PDF)
Revision Checklist (PDF)

Poetry Friday: Tagore's Old And New

It's impossible to understand modern Bengali culture without grasping the impact of the poetry and songs written by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). I hesitate to share English versions of his poems because you won't get the elegance of meter and rhyme and the nuance of image and metaphor. Nonetheless, I offer the poem recited by my sister during our wedding, "Old and New," a poem/prayer that my Grandfather gave as a gift to his "alien" American grandson-in-law (as translated by Tagore himself in Gitanjali):

Old and New

Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not.

Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own.

Thou hast brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger.

I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter;

I forget that there abides the old in the new,

and that there also thou abidest.

Through birth and death, in this world or in others,

wherever thou leadest me it is thou, the same,

the one companion of my endless life

who ever linkest my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.

When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut.

Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose

the bliss of the touch of the one

in the play of many.

Thirteen-Year-Old Author Flies High

Publisher's Weekly interviews Nancy Yi Fan, the 13-year-old Chinese-American author of a forthcoming fantasy novel about tribes of warring birds called Swordbird (HarperCollins, February 2007). Born in Beijing in 1993, Yi Fan moved to New York with her parents when she was seven years old. After learning about the events of 9/11, she had a vivid dream about birds at war. The next day she started writing Swordbird, and eventually e-mailed the manuscript to Jane Friedman, HarperCollins' chief executive, from Hainan Island in China.

If Yi Fan's success at such a tender age seems daunting to you, consider this writer who submitted to the slushpile at the ripe age of 74. Even then she couldn't be rushed, crafting her novels meticulously at the staid pace of one sentence per hour. But that's the beauty of storytelling: age, race, geography, and caste no bar. You don't even need literacy to mesmerize listeners with the power of a tale well told.

News From Kahani: Contests and Awards

Kahani Magazine, a South Asian literary magazine for children, has won the National Association for Multicultural Education's 2006 Multicultural Children's Periodical Award! The judges said Kahani "fosters awareness, acceptance, and affirmation of diversity for pre-K-12th grade students; contributes to the development of multicultural education; and maintains high multicultural standards." So true, so true.

And there's still more Kahani news. The deadline for the mag's 2nd Annual Young Writers Contest is this weekend! You don't have to be of South Asian origin to enter this contest, so why not encourage your favorite home school or elementary school buddy to use the words cousin, river, and turmeric in a short story and enter the contest? S/he's got everything to gain, and nothing to lose: first place winners get their stories and illustrations published in the Spring 2007 issue of Kahani and checks for $50; second place finishers receive a $50 gift basket, courtesy of Barefoot Books, a Cambridge-based publisher of multicultural literature, and 3rd place winners each get a $25 Borders gift card. All manuscripts and entry forms must be received by Sunday, December 17, 2006, and you can even submit them on-line.

Note: Check out Cynthia Leitich Smith's interview with Kahani contributor and children's book author Anjali Banerjee. (Looking For Bapu, Wendy Lamb Books, Random House).

Six-Word Memoir Contest

Sick of writing (or reading) tomes? Why not enter this contest instead and boil your life story down to six words? (Source: Galleycat.) Author Daniel Handler, for example, reflected on his famous pseudonym:
"What? Lemony Snicket? Lemony Snicket? What?"
Here's my own six-word memoir:
Here: "Macaca!"
There: "American!"
Where, beloved?
I think I'll stick to novels. I'll bet Emily, connoisseur of the haiku review, could nail this contest.

2006 Books That Take You Away

I'm on the hunt for fiction titles published for middle readers in 2006 that evoked a strong sense of place via the combo of good writing and your imagination. Any suggestions much appreciated.

Note: I've shifted to the new version of blogger, in case you hadn't noticed. More changes, links, and labels forthcoming. My withered left brain is taxed with all the html-coding, but I have to confess that it's sort of fun to put on the techno-geek hat for a change.

Dead Parents Society: Books About Orphans

I gravitate to books about orphans. As an immigrant kid who had to translate a new world's secrets for my parents, I liked reading about protagonists who triumphed without much help from adults. And orphans like Anne Shirley or Sara Crewe definitely fit the bill.

But as I'm reading through the stack of books nominated for the Cybils, I'm overwhelmed by the number of middle grade novels published in 2006 that feature dead parents. Does this generation of children need to process parental loss through the excellent therapy of fiction? Or is abandonment more of an issue underlying the psyche of the generation currently writing and editing books for kids? Here's my question as I read: will a kid want to read this book again and again, like I did with A Little Princess or Anne of Green Gables? Or will a beautifully-written book written and critiqued by adults from my generation receive yet another an award, despite the fact that kids won't read it?

Poetry Friday: Barley Bending

I love poetry. I love Fridays. So it's no surprise that I love poetry Fridays (Check out Chicken Spaghetti's roundup of all of today's poems.) I tucked today's offering in the draft of the second book in my series for Dutton (tentatively titled First Daughter: White House Rules.) Not sure that Ms. Teasdale's poem will stay, but since Sparrow feels a bit of desolation in one part of the book, I wanted to offer the kind of consolation that only a poem can provide.

Barley Bending
by Sara Teasdale

Like barley bending
In low fields by the sea,
Singing in hard wind

Like barley bending
And rising again,
So would I, unbroken,
Rise from pain;

So would I softly,
Day long, night long,
Change my sorrow
Into song.

Blog Crushes EXPOSED!

Thanks to Chicken Spaghetti, A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Fuse Number 8, and MotherReader, a crowd came out to the Fire Escape yesterday. My stats went nuts with the convergence of links from just those four blogs. Good thing Big A little a didn't post something about my quest for blog crush confessions -- we might have completely run out of snacks for all the visitors stopping by. (What? You didn't get any? Well, you'll have to come to one of my book launch parties in 2007, where steaming cups of Darjeeling tea and savory samosas are sure to be served.)

A solid community of children's lit bloggers has emerged over the past couple of years, and the ripples are beginning to affect the industry. Is anybody documenting the ebb and flow of this development? Setting up the Cybils Awards was such a fluid, fascinating process, for example. Judging by the librarians, authors, parents, readers, and editors who peruse the sites and click on links, blogs are already having an impact in shaping the larger picture. We have no idea how they affect book sales, however. I'm sure one of you academic or number-crunching types will eventually figure out a way to measure the power of a blog review, but for now we're riding the wave and saying it's all good. (If you're an author wondering if you should start blogging for marketing purposes, read Does Blogging Sell Books? first. Source: Galleycat via Fuse.)

Anyway, here's a list of oh-so-fly charismatic blogs that can make us swoon by mentioning our name, blog, or book:

Read Roger
Sepia Mutiny
Fuse Number 8
Suburban Turmoil
Defective Yeti
Mo Willems
Oz and Ends
Miss Snark
Bitch PhD
Phantom Scribbler
Rate Your Students
John Green
Brent Hartinger
Chicken Spaghetti
A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
Big A little a
BookmootBlog on School Library Journal
About Last Night
writing as jo(e)
Maud Newton
Book Buds
Writing With A Broken Tusk
Little Willow
Jen Robinson's Book Page

I'll keep updating as new crushes are confessed here, but in the meantime, why not share the love by adding a couple of new links to your blogroll or website? And if you're really in the mood to procrastinate (as I obviously am), check out (and vote for) these great blogs nominated for the 2006 Weblog Awards (sadly, though no kid lit or even lit categories in sight).

Who's YOUR Blog Crush?

On Sunday evening, I stopped by a mother-daughter book club to join their discussion of The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen. The mothers and several of the seventh-grade daughters asked literary questions about my writing process, etc., but then one of the girls asked if Michael liked Sunita as much as she liked him and whether or not they ever got together after the book ended. As I answered, I noticed the shift in body language around the circle; mothers and daughters alike were all really interested in my answer.

I drove home ruminating on the intensity of infatuation and the emo poetry it has the capacity to generate. These days, the only time middle-school-crush-like feelings might rise to the surface would be if I googled or technoratied myself or my books and discovered a mention on that oh-so-wonderful site or blog. Before the word "pathetic" comes to mind, consider this quote from Isaac Asimov:
From my close observation of writers...they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.
Imagine then the reverse situation and the euphoria that comes with a positive word. So, here's my question: which blog has the potential to make your heart beat a bit faster were it to mention your name, blog, or book? Stick to blogs only, please, as most of us lust after the likes of NYT, USA Today, and O Magazine.

Thank You, Kirkus!

Sorry to inundate my Fire Escape visitors with Rickshaw Girl reviews, but I can't help sharing this lovely one from Kirkus (December 1, 2006) :
Money is tight, and Naima wants to do something to help her family. If only she were a boy like her friend Saleem, she'd be able to drive her father's rickshaw and add to the family's income. Naima does have a special talent; she can paint beautiful alpacas-traditional patterns used by women to decorate Bangladeshi homes during special occasions-but how can this help her make money? When Naima decides to disguise herself as a boy and drive the rickshaw, she accidentally crashes it, and the family's debt soars even higher. Now Naima is more determined then ever to help her family-and prove that being a girl can be a good thing. Straightforward black-and-white pastel illustrations incorporate alpana patterns and depict various elements of Naima's daily life, and a helpful Bangla glossary and informative notes are included. A child-eye's view of Bangladesh that makes a strong and accessible statement about heritage, tradition and the changing role of women, Naima's story will be relished by students and teachers alike. (Fiction. 7-10)

Proof That My Agent Is Bubblin'

The Andrea Brown Literary Agency has launched a new site, proving that not only is my agent Laura Rennert beautiful, she gives good advice to writers, and is quite successful at negotiating advances in the "mid-fives" to "mid-sixes" range. (Note: lest you start imagining fat advance checks made out to "Mitali Perkins," remember that the advance listed for me is amortized over the three years it is taking to write, edit, and publish that two-book series ... Oh, well. At least I'm in good -- albeit more lucrative for Laura -- literary company when it comes to her client list.) Confused about the title of this post? See item #9 on this list to clarify.

Poetry Friday: Phenomenal Woman

Since I'm saging these days at a rapid pace -- yes, that's saging, a much better word than "sagging" or "aging"-- I present "Phenomenal Woman" by now-78-year-old Maya Angelou. Here's a snippet: "I'm a woman / Phenomenally / Phenomenal woman / That's me."