Friday, December 31, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
2. Middle grade books -- I have been pondering many things about stories in this genre, but mostly: What makes them work, when they really work? (A blog post on this question and some possible answers is pending & percolating & coming soon, I think).
3. While we're at it, middle books, too--as in, the middle book of a multi-book series or trilogy--and the same question really: What makes them work, when they really work?
4. The annual apparently-I-just-never-learn question of Seriously, where did I hide my favorite winter hat, sometime last Spring? Argh!
5. Peppermint-flavored everything! (Especially ice cream.)
6. The power of community (especially in, but not limited to, our social media-centric world) and what makes a community's development organic versus contrived, and do such origins even matter, actually, once a community takes hold of itself?
7. Seasonal comfort reads (there's a blog post coming on this, too).
8. The question of the (proper? healthiest? most productive?) balance between pride and humility, when it comes to careers of all sorts.
9. The delicious anticipation that develops with building up a designated "holiday pleasure reading" pile.
10. Notions of perception and reality and how you need a bit of both to create a genuine story.
So there's a peek inside some things being pondered by this editor's brain at the moment. What about you? What questions, ideas, things, etc. have you been thinking about lately?
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Sometimes, the internet gives you gifts. Sometimes, those gifts are a laugh when you desperately needed it, or a dancing cat that expresses a myriad of things that you wish to express to a friend. But sometimes, and best of all, the internet gives you the gift of people--people you might never have met, were it not for the internet and its powers of connectivity.
A few years back, the internet gave me the gift of Gwen Bell. She lives in Colorado; I live in New York City, and were it not for the internet, I suspect that the chances of our ever crossing paths would have been fairly slim. Gwen's a social media guru/evangelist/expert, and her particular expertise and passion--besides simply living a vibrant life which I deeply admire--lies in helping people and companies discover the places where humanity and technology can intersect in positive ways. But underneath the work she does is the person she is: Gwen's a storyteller, and one whom I believe takes equal measures of (if not even more) joy in helping others to discover and share their own stories as she does in uncovering and sharing her own.
Why am I telling you about Gwen? Because she and two friends have created something which I think is of particular value to the many storytellers and writers and thinkers who read this blog: #reverb10, a month-long, online, end-of-year initiative that encourages you to ponder and share your responses to thoughtful daily prompts, written by authors & creative types (including a few folks from the kidlit world that you may recognize).
#reverb10 is free, and it's simple to join--sign up for daily prompts, and you'll receive each day's prompt in your email. Take it a step further, and become an official participant, registering your name and the url where you'll be posting your responses. You can get involved at any point in this 31-day project (so feel free to start late) by blogging or tweeting or Tumblr-ing--or video-blogging, or audio recording, or posting photographs, or however else the creative spirit moves you!--your responses to any or all of the prompts. And if you can, take some time to be inspired by some of the other people sharing their own #Reverb10 responses, too: at current count, over 2200 people have signed up, and reading their responses may give you your own "gifts of the internet" --potential new friends, and fascinating blogs/people that you might never have otherwise encountered. One way to do this is by following the #reverb10 hashtag on Twitter for a near-constant stream of inspiration; another way is by following @reverb10 on Twitter; if you're not on Twitter, you can also click through the links to people's blogs listed on the "Participate" page. And if I haven't explained all of this well enough, go here for the FAQ or go here for a more comprehensive explanation of how to participate, whether that means a lot or a little, and how to make participating the most meaningful experience for you.
Given my many other obligations, I'm going to admit right now that I won't manage a blog post for each day's prompt, but I intend to post responses to at least a few that particularly strike me throughout the month. And you can bet that even for the prompts that I'm not answering "out loud," I'm pondering them in my mind throughout the day, because there are few things more that I love than questions that make me stop and think meaningfully. So go! Be inspired! Consider this the opposite of NaNoWriMo, if you're so inclined--there's nothing to "win" or "lose" by participating--just the chance to write and to reflect and to share and to be inspired...and those are some of the best gifts we can find on the internet (or anywhere else, for that matter), in my mind. Happy pondering!
Friday, October 29, 2010
I think if I could give one on-going piece of advice to any writer or artist, no matter his or her level of expertise, that would be it: to remember how important it is to go out and engage with the world you're trying to reflect, in one way or another, in your creative efforts.
But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, throwing advice around in the first line of a blog post, all willy-nilly and entirely unbidden. So let me backtrack a bit, and give some context, starting with this: one of my earliest, most valuable lessons about how to be a good editor came from brilliant-editor-now-turned-brilliant-agent (and former boss) Brenda Bowen, who told me more than once during the time that I worked for her that, "Interesting editors make interesting books." In other words, an editor's job is not (contrary to her often-slavish instincts) to be always at her desk. Because there's more to having the kind of vision that is required of her than simply reading, or editing, or doing the dreaded and evil paperwork. It's also an editor's job to be be fascinated by, and curious about, and, most of all, engaged with the world and everything in it...pretty much constantly!
Why? Simply stated, it's so that when a writer or artist writes about or creates something interesting--when she or he captures a new idea or perspective, or reflects the world in an utterly unique or wonderful way, or finds a fresh and memorable way of telling a universally resonant story--then an editor like Yours Truly can, in turn, be alert and savvy enough to recognize its wonder, rather than inadvertently having her head stuck inside a filing cabinet instead, and missing the whole thing! That's the plan, at least. Like anyone who's human, I do a better job at being "interesting" some weeks than others. But I do know that the weeks when I've engaged more with the world, I'm more alive within myself somehow, and more able to see that spill over into the work I'm doing. And the result is that there's more of an openness in me, more of a willingness and receptivity toward discovery, toward possibility. And what is the whole process of creating and reading and sharing children's books about, if not possibility?
Interesting editors make interesting books. I've learned many times over how much truth these five words contain, and I expect I'll keep re-learning their lesson throughout my career. But it's a maxim which applies 100% to every kind of creator, I think; it's in no way limited to editors. Because interesting writers make interesting books. And interesting artists make interesting books, too. And in fact, I suspect you could sub in a lot of words into the place of "interesting" in that motto: daring, humorous, revolutionary, intelligent, creative, thoughtful...and the list goes on and on.
So how does one learn how to be an interesting writer? And what does it look and feel like to embark on trying to be one? My author Veronica Roth currently has a really honest and wonderfully articulate post about it on her blog, and I think it's pretty much a must-read for anyone grappling with creativity, or a lack thereof. So go on over and give it a read.
And then? Yep, you guessed it. Go on out this weekend, and soak up the world! And then come back and work to transform all the interesting things you've collected into art and words--into interesting books-in-the-making! (And oh, yeah. Have fun along the way, because that matters a whole lot when it comes to creativity, too. But I think that's a whole new blog post....)
Sunday, October 24, 2010
|(For realz. I caught that guy, and some of his other friends, too!)|
I promise I'll tell you my summer fishing adventure story in a belated but still-hopefully-lovely "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" post very soon.
For now, though, I decided to cannonball back into blogging with a deep-ish post. This one was inspired by a recent email from my college friend, Jeremy, who is a campus minister in Michigan. He wrote, in part, "I'm looking at the use of questions [in my work]. Good questions stick in our minds and we come back to them regularly. They move us out of our normal ways of thinking and being. Good questions can help us to look at the truth of things and challenge us to go deeper. What was the best question you've been asked recently? Why has it stuck with you?"
And that got me thinking about questions, which are something I'm really fond of. I heartily agree with my friend that good questions help us get to the truth of things and challenge us into deeper ideas, and I think that a good book--like every kind of art--is one way of asking and creating forums for such questions. In fact, that's probably part of why I like books and their creators and bookish people in general so much: they're always stirring up interesting questions and conversations. And I think books for kids and teens ask some of the best, most important questions!
So, friends, two questions that I'll now turn over to you: feel free to answer either of them in the comments section!
Question One: What was the best question you've been asked recently, & why has it stayed with you?
Question Two: Writers and artists, what questions do your stories ask?
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
There were some complications with the WriteOnCon website today (the kind where two thousand people all try to log on at the same moment and crash the server, oops), so in case you missed it, here's a post from me about giving yourself permission as a writer.
Also, brilliant colleagues/pals Martha Mihalick (editor), Holly Root (agent), and I made our debut as
But my contributions are just a small part of all the awesomeness of WriteOnCon. Check out what's happening over the next two days here, and be sure to follow @WriteOnCon on Twitter for real-time updates, too!
Monday, August 9, 2010
If you haven't heard about WriteOnCon, go check it out. Basically, 7 kidlit writers found themselves wishing for a *free* online writers conference . . . and then, since one did not exist, and because they are Made. Of. Awesome., they went out and made it happen. (Note to self, never-ever underestimate the power of writers with a good ideaa...)
Seriously, take a look at the schedule, and poke around on the website. Instead of the in-person workshops and lectures and breakout sessions of a traditional conference, you'll find editors, agents, and published authors presenting via blogs and vlogs, talking about every element of the industry imaginable, from craft to querying. (Yours truly will be both vlogging and blogging, oh my!).
Wishing for something a little more interactive, or that allows your questions to be answered? Then take part in live chat panels every night (come say hi to me on Thursday evening! Be sure to read the instructions in advance to get registered).
And because a conference wouldn't be a conference without a chance to meet other amazing writers, there are forums for conversations and critiques and connections.
And it's all FREE. (A.k.a, no "what should I wear??" panic! You can wear your pajamas!) You can follow along in real-time if you're able, as the presentations go live, or you can catch up later by scrolling back through previous "sessions."
Sound awesome? I expect that it will be! My hat's truly off to the ladies who dreamed this up, rallied the industry to take part, and then brought it all to fruition in a matter of mere months. Once again, the children's book community proves itself to be quite an amazing, giving community, abounding with enthusiasm and possibility. So...hope to see you at the conference!
Friday, July 9, 2010
It's that time of year again! Off I go to the beautiful Oregon coast to meet a crop of eager, ambitious writers and get up to our elbows in storytelling and writerly craft . . . and then to frolic beside the Pacific for a few days in one of my favorite little corners of the world.
See you in a few weeks!
Thursday, June 24, 2010
1. Find me or Anne Hoppe in the HarperCollins booth, or roaming the exhibits floor, at ALA this weekend. (Hint, I'll definitely be in the booth on Saturday afternoon after 3pm. Anne Hoppe will be there on Saturday at 11 a.m.)
2. Tell us, "I am talking about YOU."
3. After thanking you graciously, we will give you one of these fantastic buttons*. (And an ARC** of YOU, Charles Benoit's brilliant YA debut, if you haven't already gotten your hands on one.)
4. Keep spreading the word--because everyone is talking about YOU!
*while supplies last.
**also while supplies last.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
In her honor, I thought I'd do a salute to books about best-friendship. In no particular order, and just off the top of my head, here are a few wonderful tributes to friendship--and to the ways friends love us at our best and worst, and help us grow, and change, and become, and learn to recognize our truest selves.
But I'm sure I'm missing about a million stories that belong on this list! So you tell me: what are some of your favorite books about friendship?
Friday, May 21, 2010
YOU is without a doubt one of the most important books I'll have a part in bringing to life in my entire career, no matter how long that career turns out to be. There aren't enough adjectives to describe how masterfully crafted Charles Benoit's story is, and how excited we are that he's found his way from the adult mystery world into writing YA. And working beside my amazing boss on YOU has been a phenomenal experience--15 months after our first reads of it, we're still unable to stop ourselves from talking about it near-constantly. Most of all, the support of the children's/YA writing world for this new-to-our-world author and his story has been inmmensely humbling. The ARC, in fact, looks like this:
Friday, May 14, 2010
So. Anyway. Belonging.
Last week, I visited a friend who just adopted a sweet dog from an animal rescue organization. I expected the dog to perhaps be skittish or shy...she'd only been in her new home for two days, after all. Instead, she was calm, and politely interested in meeting me, if perhaps a little less excited about the whole encounter than I was. Why? Well, it became very clear over the course of my visit was this was a dog well on her way to being vastly content. Why? Because my friend belonged to her now. In two short days, Madeline-the-dog (named for this Madeline, of course) had already claimed her new owner in a complete, wholehearted way. And not that I didn't love my friend before, but I left her apartment a few hours later smiling, because, well, I think it's impossible to not change for the better anytime one is loved fiercely, whether by person or by beast. In short, I think it's quite likely that my friend is going to become an even better person than she already is, now that she belongs to a dog. (Hmm, I suspect I must take advantage of this opportune moment for book suggestion, even if it ruins the evocative mood of this blog post. Need a picture book to articulate the small but critical difference/nuances between a dog belonging to a person, and a person belonging to a dog? Try the Christmastime charmer The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy or, the poignant and pitch-perfect Orville: A Dog Story.)
Thinking later about this idea--the peculiar loveliness of belonging and how it changes us--made me flash back to an understanding that's bubbled up in me the last few times I've traveled. Over the last year or two, I've gotten into the habit of, whenever possible, taking late-night flights back into NYC instead of daytime ones. To me, there's something breath-taking, and breath-giving at the same time, about descending from a dark sky toward Manhattan's city-island full of lights. It goes deeper than just being a sight that's "magical," or any adjective one might use to describe beauty. It's even somehow beyond the simple notion of home. It's more about a sense of completeness. Trying to articulate how it makes me feel to a friend recently, the only way I could express it was to say that flying into the light-filled city reminds me that, after eight years here, I belong to New York now. It feels as if NYC is reaching out to reconnect and reclaim me as its own. And this often-hard-but-always-glorious city makes me a better person, I think, because I belong to it.
In a similar sort of way, a certain handsome guy in my life belongs to a particular corner of the Pacific Ocean, because he grew up surrounded by its waters. I've watched him for years, observing the fact that if he's away from "his" ocean too long, he becomes jittery, stress-laden, unhappy. By contrast, even a short trip back to visit it gives him a sense of peace, and returns him to his most complete self. In a mysterious, hard-to-define but definite way, I think it's fair to say that he's a better person purely because he's spent his life belonging so intensely to that ocean, even when he's far away from it.
And the "click" moment of last night's ten block walk: that this all connects, and deeply, to a line from one one my very favorite lyrical, literary YA novels, Cynthia Rylant's I Had Seen Castles:
"I want to have that morning. The walk to school with the guys, the banter, the wisecracking, the cuffing and shoving that boys must do to claim ownership of each other."I've loved that line since the very first time I read it, because it expresses something so entirely true. That is exactly how pre-teen boys act, exactly why their rough-and-tumble antics are actually so important, because they reveal their feelings of belonging to their tribe, and to each other, on their way toward becoming themselves.
So. Ownership. Belonging. You could call it connectedness, too, I think. As I think about it, I realize these are transformational words, transformational experiences. It seems there's something about belonging--to a person, to an animal, to a place, to an idea, even--that makes us our best selves, makes us more whole. Why is that? Does anyone know?
I think it's time to end my rambly thoughts on the idea here, but I know it's one I'm going to keep pondering. And I'd love to hear your own thoughts and responses and ponderings in the comments. And I'm curious, too, of course. Outside of the most obvious answer of your family, your beloved ones--who or what or where do you belong to, in a way that transforms you, that makes you your best self, that makes you more whole?
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Last week, while in Milwaukee to meet with the oh-so-warm-and-welcoming writers of SCBWI-Wisconsin, I got to spend a few hours roaming the campus of my alma mater, Marquette University. I'm a bit sappy and reflective by nature, so it should probably have been no surprise to me how much a visit like that would get under my skin, and sure enough, it did, leaving me profoundly grateful for my four years there. In a sense, Marquette marks for me the place and time where I first truly woke up to the world, just as I'm sure so many other MU alumni would say. It's where I first encountered all the rich possibility that comes from being human, and also the responsibility that comes from an awareness of one's humanity. It's where I learned that to be fully alive, one must be both firmly rooted in what one holds true and yet also open and engaged with the world, allowing and expecting growth to happen in unexpected ways and and shapes and places.
A decade after my graduation, I'm proud of my University--proud of its Jesuit mission, and that it continues to develop students who see the importance of living as "men and women for others." I'm proud of its focus on social justice and its activist spirit, and of the faith at its core, and that walking around campus last week made it clear to me that it's full of the same passionate vibrance and energy and awareness of and commitment to the world around it that I remember being constantly inspired by. I'm proud of the fact that it continues to attract smart, determined young people from all over the world who are determined to "Be the Difference." I'm proud of the ways it's committed to maintaining on-going links to, and conversation with, its family of alumni. And I'm proud that I can see almost an infinite number of connections between the person I am today and the education--intellectual, personal, spiritual--that I received at Marquette.
But! Poetry Friday, right? (I promise I'm getting there!) One of the first things I received as a freshman at Marquette--it was in my dorm room when I arrived, as in every other freshman's--was a gift, on behalf of our University Ministry office: a small book filled with reflections, prayers, quotes, and writings. One of them struck me deeply the very first time I read it, and in fact, it's been a guiding philosophy of my life ever since. It's not quite a poem, but to me, at least, it stirs the soul and provokes a certain sense of truth in the same way that a good poem does. And it's meant something entirely different yet equally important in each stage of my life thus far: as student, as youth minister, as children's book marketer, and now, as children's book editor. And if you read it with a writer's eyes, I expect it has something to say to writers, too.
Letter to a Young Activist
by Thomas Merton
Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on ...you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything....
(If so inclined, you can read the full letter here.)
Thursday, April 22, 2010
From the Department of Randomly Weird Things That Sometimes Pop Into My Head For No Good Reason: a remix.
Agents, writers, this earworm's dedicated to you (with love, I promise)!
"That's me in the corner;
That's me on the subway, I'm
Here with my e-reader--
Trying to Keep. Up. With you.
And I don't know if I can do it.
Oh no, I've read too much;
I haven't read enough...."
(If you miss me, I promise I'm not dead. Just busy reading-reading-reading. And editing. And y'know, reading some more.)
*Alternate, amusingly-publishing-appropriate (& entirely unadulturated) lyrics from the original that were runners-up possibilities for the title of this post: "That was just a dream / Just a dream, just a dream," "What if all these fantasies / Come flailing around," and "Consider this."
P.S. Just for kicks, how about a live version?
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Do you know a great bookstore that fits the description above? Tell us about it in the comments!
Friday, April 2, 2010
Ah, high school.
The discovery, a few years later, that entire university courses were devoted to studying "The Waste Land" made me feel retroactively better about all the parts of it that I just "didn't get" at age fifteen. Those early repeated attempts to read and understand "The Waste Land" left the first handful of lines etched in my brain, though, with an odd sort of fondness attached to them. Perhaps that's why I get such a delight out of this video, which accompanies a recording of Eliot himself reading the opening section. Take a moment and listen, even if you have no erstwhile literary crush on Eliot in your own past--there's something eternally magnificent about hearing an author read his/her own words aloud.
The Waste Land
by T. S. Eliot
Read more of "The Wasteland" here. And happy April--don't forget that it's Poetry Month!
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
But for now, as the simplest answer to that question, I'll point to this. Reviews like this--heartfelt responses from readers like this--are why I work in publishing, and specifically, why I work in children's/YA books. Because I get to help make books that carry this much power, for readers of every age. Because stories become a part of us and stay with us forever and shape the person we become in the world and the mark we choose to leave on it. Because the things a writer has to say, and the words s/he crafts, can become black marks on white paper (or the technological equivalent thereof) that just might make someone else want to become a better person. And I get to help make all of that happen.
Does there need to be any other reason?
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
(Explanation: this is how the Circus Elephants arrive in NYC and travel from the Midtown Tunnel into Madison Square Garden every year. They march down 34th Street at midnight. More (and better!) photos here.
P.S. I heart NY.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Mountains = not in NYC anymore
Nope, not Brooklyn, either. Not even close.
A million gorgeous miles away, in fact!
(That's Abiquiu Lake)
Travel Companion and I had a fairly singular goal: to escape the dreary February-ness of our respective locales, run away to somewhere entirely different, and be inspired for a few days. Abiquiu, New Mexico--famous for inspiring much of Georgia O'Keefe's artwork--was the exactly what we'd hoped for. (Abiquiu is about 50 miles north of Santa Fe, and about 60 miles west of Taos, which means that both learningtoread and christinetripp had awfully close guesses. I'll be emailing both of you about your promised prizes, and thanks to all who played along and suggested a locale.)
Want to see some more gorgeousness?
They called it a casita, but this "little house" was approx 200 (okay, 5, but still!) times bigger than my apartment!
Mountains in the front yard!! They delighted me all
over again every morning when I woke up & rediscovered them.
Oh this? Just the side view from the casita--starring
the bee-yoo-tiful (if still half-frozen) Chames River.
It's impossible, really, to do a place like this justice in words, so I'll just sum it up in with a Nature count (hey, when you live in a city of concrete like NYC, Nature becomes a delightful novelty) and let you imagine the rest:
Prairie dogs seen scurrying into holes: 2 (so cute!!)
Stars in the night sky: Approximately a bazillion, all of them gorgeous.
Hours spent staring at stars: Many. (What is it about stars that moves us so deeply?)
Shooting stars seen: 1, and it was oh-so-perfect.
Coyotes heard howling from the mountains at night: Loved 'em, but decided it was better not to know how many there were out there, thanks.
"Cow crossing" warning signs seen: 1 approximately every 1/2 mile, for many, many miles.
Actual cows seen, crossing or otherwise: None. Nada. Zip.
Zombie cow theories resulting from mismatch: 1, fairly half-baked.
Spontaneous side trip that may or may not have been to a local brewery (but that had nothing to do with zombie cow theories, I swear!): 1.
Picture-perfect vacation ending (i.e. rainbow over the mountains as my flight departed): 1. Ain't it gorgeous?
Inner Dixie Chick satisfied: 1, most definitely.
(You know you want to sing along!)
Where should I go the next time I run away from NYC? All suggestions happily accepted in the comments!
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
It's amazing, though, isn't it, how a few days of vacation can set you behind for weeks afterward? I pinky-swear that a post-vacation post, complete with pictures and promised prizes, is coming soon! For now, though, I'm deep in the heart of making some fabulous books (and you'd all far rather get to read them than my blog anyway, I guarantee it!) so it will be just a tad longer before I catch up with the blog.
In the meanwhile, Top o' the Morning and a Very Happy Wearin' o' the Green today!
P.S. Just a reminder: there's only 3 days left to Help Make Something Awesome Happen! Don't forget to go be a part of it!
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
All my standard threats about just possibly never-ever coming back from a beautiful place like this hold true. That said, don't have too much fun without me while I'm away, please!
P.S. Bonus points & a fun Advanced Readers Copy prize to the first person in the comments section who properly guesses where I am, city & state, based on that picture. (No fair playing if I've already told you, though!)
Monday, February 22, 2010
Today, though, I think the technical term is "Lots of Awesome People Banding Together to Collectively Make Something Really Good Happen." In this case, the "Something Really Good" is Fire Petal Books, a kids/YA bookstore that my editorial colleague, Michelle Witte, is trying to get off the ground in her home state of Utah (which just happens to be a very kid & family-centric place, so her plan makes a great lot of sense). But nothing gets started without a lot of work. And a lot of Awesome People.
That's where you come in.
If you're feeling up to maybe Being Awesome, go take a look at the auction that Michelle has going on the Fire Petal website:
- There are writer-centric goodies up for grab (yours truly is offering a PB/novel manuscript critique, as well as a 15-minute phone consultation) from an array of editor/agent industry types, as well as acclaimed authors and illustrators.
- There are autographed books for the book-lovers in your life. (People, there is even an autographed Neil Gaiman book up for offer...and it currently has NO BIDS! How is that even possible?!)
- And there's lots of other nifty stuff, too, including parties and jewelry, oh my!
And thanks. You're Awesome.
P.S. Have something you want to offer for the auction? Autographed books, publishing services, anything else that you could donate that someone else might want? Contact Michelle through her website or Twitter; she's adding more itemsto the auction everyday!
And yet, and yet... *whispers* sometimes, the internet, and twitter, and facebook, and goodreads and email and whatever the new social media invention-of-the-week is, and even this blog...and all the people they entail...it is all exhausting. Which is perhaps why this article, passed along by smart, thoughtful agent Holly Root, with the explanation of "why we're all more and less connected all at once" really echoed for me. I don't agree with everything in it (and if you're language-sensitive, be warned that there are some sailor-worthy swears in here), and I don't think I'm as fatalistic about it all as this article's author is, either, but there are more than a few truths here, to be sure.
Which parts rang true for you? And what do we do about it all, anyway? Lemme know your thoughts in the comments; this is bound to be an interesting conversation!
Friday, February 19, 2010
on the way buy a nice wine (chilled) and some tulips.
fill a bath full of hot water and bubbles.
Fill a glass of wine and get a nice book.
Maybe some chocolate.
After the bath get under a nice down quilt.
Stare at the tulips until you doze.
Monday, February 15, 2010
But what happens, once the connection is made? Do we talk enough--or at all--about what that can mean, especially for writers of deeply resonant and real (but also sometimes deeply painful) stories?
We talk a lot about "responsibility" in children's and YA books, and one of the fascinating things about that word is that, like any word, it means something different to different people. To some, it means militant safe-guarding of young readers from stories that may, ultimately, shape them, even in the slightest of ways, into a different person than they were previously. But to most of us working in publishing, whether as writers or industry folk, "responsibility," especially in the context of YA, usually translates best to "honesty."
Most of us remember what it was like to be a teen, and we know teens today, too. And the truth is, growing up is (still) hard, and (still) confusing, and it isn't always safe, and sometimes it's positively cruel, but every teen has to stumble through it somehow. And if there are books that might help him/her do so with a little more certainty or a little less loneliness, so much the better. In a way, it means we're all in this together: authors and agents, editors and publishers, librarians and teachers, with all the other invisible walls between our linked-but-separate professions broken down. We're all in it together for every single teen who might, just might, reach for a book while seeking to answer some variation of the questions that we still remember asking ourselves: How, exactly, do we learn to grow up? To become human? To survive the turbulent mess of fears and glories and heartbreaks and changes that any kind of significant becoming entails? To find out which things actually matter, to understand what part of everything is true?
My Jesuit university extolled an ideal that's at the heart of their mission/philosophy of education, and that ended up at the heart of me, too: cura personalis, or "care for the whole person." In other words, it's not enough to care for or feed a person physically, you must also look after his/her unique emotional, spiritual, and mental needs and hungers, too; we must offer a deep respect for everything that makes a person human. In this way, we can help others--and ourselves--them grow, by refusing to segment a person into only the elements we might feel comfortable seeing. Ultimately, if reaching outward, you cannot only give attention to singular aspects of a person's full humanity, or you have failed to truly care for them after all. It's a philosophy that I think can offer a deeper meaning to, but demand a deeper responsibility from, any profession: from doctors to social workers to teachers to writers of books for teens. Because we do care for those we encounter, and deeply: writers care for the teens who will read their books, and editors care for those teens, too--and also for the authors, caught somewhere in the middle of this chain of connectivity.
Which brings me to the question that Janet Reid is asking on her blog today. It's not a question that I have any answer to (would that I did!) but I agree with her that it's an important one for all of us to weigh, and to think about in terms of today's social media-driven world. What happens when a teen does find a story that speaks to him/her powerfully, and that book becomes a lifeline--when a reader reaches out, believing the author has the answers he/she is seeking, or wanting a continuation of what felt like a deeply personal connection? And then in turn, what's an author to do when that same sense of immediacy that we extol in writing for teens comes through in a reader's communications--when they email/blog comment/Facebook message/MySpace post/Tweet/etc, etc. an author offering their own story, brimming with vulnerability and then desperately--or even just hopefully--await an answer, a meaningful response, a deeper connection, a promise that there's a way past whatever moment they're in the midst of living? And how does an author begin to shoulder that responsibility, that hunger, that need on the part of readers, somewhere in the midst of the other work of being a writer?
Media is so often blamed when things go wrong in the lives of damaged, hurting, unhappy, teens. We blame tragedies on the influence of violent video games and movies; we blame magazines for encouraging hopelessly unrealistic self-images. In the resoundingly opposite direction, it's long been the stance of children's/YA book folks that the greatest thing we can--and do!--offer to teens is hope, in the form of stories. But social media has changed--or at least, slightly shifted--so many other aspects of publishing that I guess we shouldn't be surprised that it's changed the author-reader relationship in some regards, too. And I don't think that new-media-heightened hope for connection is an aspect of the job that a writer can simply chose to turn away from and ignore--I don't think writers of books for teens would choose to do that, or I don't think they'd bother writing for teens at all. So somehow, it seems that a writer's job isn't just to serve words and stories and characters anymore--it's also to serve the searching/freely-sharing/sometimes-broken readers who come barreling, virtually, into their in-boxes. And for writers, that fact is powerful and beautiful and utterly overwheming, all at once, or so I suspect.
So what's the next step? It's a two-pronged query, I think: one set of answers may spell out some ways writers can best respond to teens who, though virtual strangers, are craving connection in a way that validates/orients/respects/sometimes even rescues them. But the other part both precedes and follows that, and it's for all of us: How do we (agents, editors, publishers, fellow writers, booksellers, educators, and the children's publishing community as a whole) equip writers to receive the stream of stories teens offer in return for the books they've just read?
It's a big question. I welcome your thoughts.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I'm a few days late this week, but we can pretend I did it on purpose, right? To save Poetry Friday for Valentine's Day, right?
And here's a bit of an editor's valentine: wrapped up in the form of a poem, I offer you a perfect example of that oft-quoted bit of writing advice, "show, don't tell." There is both so much the poet does and doesn't reveal in these short lines, as she shows us a brief but vivid glimpse of a particular love story. And, thanks to the revealing power of these carefully-chosen words, we can't help but imagine of what this woman looks like--or at least, what her quiet, radiant smile looks like. I know I imagine it to be quite lovely.
Happy Valentine's Day!
"Those Who Love"
by Sara Teasdale
Those who love the most,
Do not talk of their love,
Deirdre, Iseult, Heloise,
In the fragrant gardens of heaven
Are silent, or speak if at all
Of fragile inconsequent things.
And a woman I used to know
Who loved one man from her youth,
Against the strength of the fates
Fighting in somber pride
Never spoke of this thing,
But hearing his name by chance,
A light would pass over her face.