Showing posts from June, 2009

Tips, Tricks, and Twitter Parties

I'm departing the Fire Escape for a week's writing retreat, but I'll leave you with some tips, news, and tricks, as well as an update on our Twitter Book Parties: only room for two more books!
I have to mind my "p"s and "q"s after being quoted in Greg Pincus' article on social media as a language showcase.

Check out Grace Lin's virtual book launch of the thrice-starred WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON (Little Brown) and her online store of graceful gifts.

YA author and rgz Diva Holly Cupala shares my tips on revision in her Summer Revision Smackdown Series.

Curtis Brown literary agent Tracy Marchini offers marketing tips for authors and ten ways NOT to get an agent.

Rebel Books, a new UK-based publisher of YA fiction, seeks magic / supernatural / faerie stories.

2009 Américas Award Kid/YA Books "authentically and engagingly portray Latinos in the US."

Gran Torino: Nice Work, Eastwood

At first glance, Gran Torino might seem like another one of those white men saves the day kind of stories that spew out of Hollywood on a regular basis. But it's not. It's a movie about how crossing borders to encounter the personal and particular, as Hazel Rochman put it, can "save" the racist in all of us.

Clint Eastwood liked the script by Nick Schenk, a rookie screenwriter based in Minnesota, so much that he didn't allow a single word to be changed. Schenk credits the friendships he made while on the job, both with war veterans and Hmong factory workers, as inspiration for the story he wrote with his brother's buddy Dave Johannson.

How did the brown people portrayed in the film view this story by a white writer? Asian Week covered the Hmong community's reaction to the film. The general response of Hmong moviegoers has been positive, and (but?), a blog that was critical of the movie, has disappeared.

Two Hmong-American guys, Cedric…

Hospitality, Chattanooga Style

My last author visit of this academic year was a quick 24-hour sojourn to Chattanooga, Tennessee over the weekend. The library put me up in the Stone Fort Inn, a bed and breakfast in the heart of the city, Holly Reber of the Chattanooga Times Free Pressinterviewed me before the visit, and writers young and old shared their stories in writing workshops about creating a sense of place.

The main branch of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Library

Della Phipps, YA librarian, was a superb hostess.
She promised to send me her family recipe for grits.

Tip: Stop by the local indie to glean a sense of place;
Rock Point Books was full of life on a Friday afternoon.

Teen book shelf at Rock Point Books

Thank you, Chattanooga!

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

I love asking questions on Twitter (where I tend to focus on "professional" subjects) and Facebook (seems better suited for the personal stuff). Here are a few I've posed lately, in case you want to weigh in:Booksellers, tell me the truth. How tough is it to sell a YA novel with a nonwhite protagonist? If your answer is "quite," any exceptions?

Why do sci-fi or fantasy authors import our society's current mores about sex and romance into their imagined worlds lock, stock, and barrel?

What can Google Wave offer our Kid/YA book community?

I'm compiling a list of great father-son children's and YA books. Recommendations?

When they meet me in person, my virtual friends inevitably exclaim, "Oh, you're actually tall!" Does this happen to anybody else?Social media provides a great venue to get input on many subjects. As in real life, though, whether or not we get a straight answer depends on how we ask the question. Sometimes I get no response. A…

Celebrating Book Birthdays on Twitter

The release of a new book is something to celebrate. Each story winging out into the world deserves a communal "HURRAH!"

Authors and illustrators, if you're on twitter and have written or illustrated a traditionally published book for children or teens, follow @bookbbday, and DM or direct message the publication date / TITLE / genre / publisher / @twittername. (Genre key: PB = Picture Book, CB = Chapter Book, MG = Middle Grade, YA = Young Adult, NF = Nonfiction.) Since this is a one-woman job, I'm capping this list at fifty, but if it's easier than it seems once we get rolling, I might open it up again.

The day your book releases (full list below), we'll spread the news, raise a glass, break out the chocolate, and virtually party with you. We’ll also provide a link to IndieBound so that thousands of tweeps can rush to their local independents and buy your book. In exchange, you agree to re-tweet toasts to the other books as often as you can. Booksellers on twit…

Poll Results: Amending Classic Children's Books

Last week, I asked visitors to the Fire Escape when, if ever, it would be okay to update a classic children's book to reflect changing mores about race. The results (152 votes) were almost equally split between those who thought some changes might be in order, while the rest arguing that a book must stand as is.
Slightly more than half of you (83 votes, or 54%) said never.

Among those who felt it might be worth it to change a classic book, we see a strong belief that an author alone retains the right to change the story. Fifty-nine voters (38%) thought it would be appropriate to update if the author were still alive and wanted the changes.

Twenty-eight (18%) thought it would be permissible to revise a classic children's book if the publisher included a note in the re-issue explaining the reasoning behind the change.

Fifteen of you (9%) thought it would be okay to update if the changes made were incidental rather than integral to the plot, and fifteen (9%) more were amenable if th…

Race, Caste, and Class in HUNGER GAMES

Yesterday I asked you how you pictured the characters in Suzanne Collins' bestselling novel THE HUNGER GAMES. Well, here's what I gleaned about race, culture, and class in this enthralling story.

Early on we're informed that families in the Seam who work the mines have olive skin, dark hair, and gray eyes. Notice that their eyes aren't brown, which means they aren't Middle Eastern, Hispanic, or South Asian.

Right after that sentence, Collins writes that Katniss' mother and Prim have light hair and blue eyes, physical characteristics that are out of place next to the mine workers in the Seam. She tells us that Katniss' maternal grandparents were part of a small merchant class of pharmacists. Katniss' parents, then, crossed some borders to marry.

Peeta, too, is blond, and is part of a clan of bakers, definitely more prosperous than the mining families.

We start to see a connection between race, class, and occupation. Is this a society organized along the line…

Race in Suzanne Collins' HUNGER GAMES

When it comes to race and ethnicity in Suzanne Collins' gripping dystopian novel, HUNGER GAMES (Scholastic), how did you picture the characters?

Virtual Author Branding: Five Tips

This isn't your mother's publishing industry. These days, we authors sound more like musicians who have long worried about "generating a brand" and "developing a fan base."

Since I've been blogging and micro-blogging (mostly on Twitter and Facebook) for a while, my writing buddies sometimes ask for tips. Here are five basics to keep in mind as you venture into the virtual world to sell your books.

1. Pursue excellence.

Quit whining about publicists or the lack thereof. These days, an author must take primary responsibility for his or her "brand." This requires writing great books, of course, but it also means that the small stuff matters.

From spelling and grammar to rants and raves, everything we publish on the web should display a commitment to the kind of excellence that attracts followers and fans.

Midlist or debut authors can learn from musicians who claim that to make a living an artist needs a fan base of 1000 members. If we count aunts, unc…

Bowdlerizing Children's Books: A Poll

Should publishers edit beloved children's books like LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE or THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA to eliminate racial or ethnic stereotyping? When (if ever) is it okay? Please vote in the poll in my sidebar and/or comment below.

It's okay to update a classic children's book to reflect changing mores ...
if the changes made are incidental rather than integral to the plot (see these changes made to Robert Lawson's Caldecott-winning THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD, for example).

if the publisher includes a note in the re-issue explaining the reasoning behind the change (as Roger Sutton references here).

if the author is still alive and wants the changes (for instance, me).

if the copyright holder (a descendant) is still alive and authorizes the changes.

never.Authors, when it comes to making changes in our own books, all of us reflect the ethics and morals of our time and culture, and all of us will err in one way or another. It's guaranteed that we'll reread our b…

A Writer's Day in Connecticut

The audience at the Greenwich Arts Council and Leslie Guegen of Just Words listened yesterday to Rachel Vail (GORGEOUS/Harper Collins) and me (SECRET KEEPER/Random House) share tips about writing books for kids and teens.

A no-duh takeaway for authors (including me) from the talented, funny, and practical Rachel: use a separate credit card for writing expenses to manage your business easily.

Award-winning Connecticut author Sarah Darer Littman (PURGE/Scholastic) attended our session to show some authorial support.

Before driving back to Boston, I had lunch in Ridgefield with Sarah Rettger, marketing coordinator for the American Booksellers Association, and ...

... part-time bookseller for Books on the Common, where owner Ellen Burns (right) was celebrating the store's front page appearance on The Ridgefield Press.

Massachusetts Book Awards

The Massachusetts Center for the Book recommends children's/YA books published in 2008 by Massachusetts authors. Full disclosure: I'm on the list. Winners of the Book Awards will be announced shortly.

Picture Books

As Good as Anybody by Richard Michelson. (Knopf) Lessons from the parallel upbringings of Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel culminate in their 1965 march together against discrimination, from Selma to Montgomery.

One Hen by Kate Smith Milway. (Kids Can Press) The true story of Kojo, a young boy from West Africa, who realizes that one small loan will result in a successful venture. An inspirational story about a little help, i.e., a micro-loan, that makes a real difference.

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A Nivola. (Frances Foster/FSG) The story of 2004 Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Wangari Maathai who launched the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and changed her homeland one seed at a time.

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks…

An Agent Talks Trends in MG/YA Publishing

At our Boston Bookish Tweetup on Sunday, literary agent Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency reflected on the current and future state of Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA) books. Lauren kindly gave me permission to post some notes here. If other agents, editors, or teen and tween experts want to chime in, feel free to add your comments.

What's in her slush pile:
A ton of romance.
Lots of books chasing TWILIGHT.Ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, the supernatural in general.
Historical fiction, especially with WWII and Civil Rights content.
Fantasy, with many HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS wannabes.
What publishing houses are asking for:
Clean books that can sell in every part of the country.
MG in general -- several publishers are eagerly looking for it.Funny books, especially for middle grade. Absolutely saleable.
"Boy" books, including nonfiction, which sells better to boys.
Solidly commercial books versus award-winning "literary" books.Paranormal storie…

Boston Bookish Schmooze Photos

Hinting at a future of low-cost regional gatherings, a group of bookish folk who weren't at Book Expo America connected via Twitter at Porter Square Books on Sunday 5/31 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

We exchanged books and social media tips, made new connections, and enjoyed the cozy ambience of one of the finest independent booksellers in the Boston area.

One of the organizers, agent Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency (@BostonBookGirl), shared some interesting findings on trends in Middle Grade and YA fiction. With her permission, I sum up her talk here on the Fire Escape.

Track us on twitter via hashtag #BostonBEA.

Some of the BostonBEA participants: from left to right, back row: John L. Bell, Brendan Halpin, Delia Cabe, Lauren MacLeod, Marie Cloutier, Laya Steinberg, Anindita Basu Sempere. Front row: Mitali Perkins, Kathleen Benner Duble.

Lauren MacLeod (center, back) leads a discussion on trends in YA and MG books.

Anindita Basu Sempere, Joan Paquette, John L. Bell, and Brend…