Monday, February 22, 2010

Win...stuff. Good stuff. Oh, and help make Something Awesome happen.

Random bit of relatively useless editorial knowledge of the day: once upon a time, they'd have called this a Box Social.

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:
  • And there's lots of other nifty stuff, too, including parties and jewelry, oh my!
So go nuts! Bid high! Bid a lot! Bid often, and over and over, from now till the auction ends on March 20th, and until we've all really helped make this bookstore happen. Okay?

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!

"Web 2.0 is like a pyramid scheme"

Some of the most fascinating relationships and discoveries of my professional life have come to me via social media over the last few years. If you were to talk to me in person, you'd hear me vehemently defend the real goodness out there, and the fact that I think social media's benefits far outweigh its flaws. Even just a few years into it all, I've got a closet-full of personal examples of friendships, insights, joys, opportunities, and true delights that have come my way via the internets. And the truth is, I kinda think that one of the points of life is to have meaningful relationships and make meaningful connections between them, and call me crazy, but I've found and made a good handful of those via the internet.

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 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

Poetry-like advice on a Friday

In lieu of Poetry Friday (because this week has been a BUSY one), I offer you instead some the poetic advice given to me today by lovely author, Patricia MacLachlan (who has a new novel coming out this summer, which means you should start saving your pennies and getting excited NOW!)

go home.
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.

I think I might do just that. You're welcome to take her sage advice, too. Happy weekend, all!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Conversation on Resonance & Responsibility

Resonance and connectivity are things that I look for a lot as an editor, things that I ask writers to pursue in their storytelling, urging them to open up their stories as wide as possible. Doing so can lead to one of the most powerful kinds of writing, in my mind: when a book reaches beyond merely telling about a particular set of characters, and becomes a story that echoes as familiar and personal and true in the hearts and minds of all different kinds of readers. If, as creators of stories, we recognize and believe that stories are what connect us, then of course that potential for deep connection is one we want to make the most of, right? And if we're lucky, the connections do, in fact, emerge: between readers and characters, between readers and their classmates/friends/family members/fellow humans, and sometimes between readers and authors, too.

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

Poetry Friday on Sunday: a.k.a., Happy Valentine's Day!

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,
Francesca, Guinevere,
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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Best Book Ever

Hey, I think I've met this guy a time or two before. Maybe you have, too? Maybe he's in your writing group?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Poetry Friday: "Winter Stars"

What is it about stars that is so evocative? I can't even answer my own question, but I know I'm not alone in loving their imagery. There's a lot I love about this poem, too--how perfectly it captures the sense of winter melancholy that finds us all from time to time, the slow shift in its tone from sorrow to quiet hope, and how well it echoes the sense of creeping peacefulness and slowed-down, utter stillness that one feels when standing outside late at night, looking up at the stars. And the last line of this poem is so lovely, I won't say anything more, I'll just let you read it.

Winter Stars
by Sara Teasdale

I went out at night alone;
The young blood flowing beyond the sea
Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—
I bore my sorrow heavily.

But when I lifted up my head
From shadows shaken on the snow,
I saw Orion in the east
Burn steadily as long ago.

From windows in my father’s house,
Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
I watched Orion as a girl
Above another city’s lights.

Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,
All things are changed, save in the east
The faithful beauty of the stars.