Saturday, April 23, 2005

Critique: Reader Strategy

It's usually helpful at some point to have thoughtful fellow writers* look at your work and offer comments for improvement. Especially if you're a novelist, think hard about who's good at what. One critiquer may be a wonderful big-picture person, another a great question-asker, a third good at helping to polish or trim prose. Be careful to have each read at the most helpful point in your process, even if they're to read again later on. And remember that there may be a declining return if they've seen the manuscript too many times. The whole point is to get a fresh eye, not a tired one.

*writers, meaning not kids, not family members, not teachers, not your mail carrier (unless of course your kids, family members, teacher, and mail carrier also are writers)...

Cynsational News & Links

Am I the only one freaked out about the Arizona referendum Greg blogged about this week?

On a brighter note, congratulations to author Jane Kurtz on the birth of her granddaughter, Ellemae Inku Goering, born March 22, 2005 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Pet Words

Writers tend to lean heavily on certain words or expressions. Nothing is wrong with this at the early stages because it helps get the draft down.

But especially if the same words appear again and again in most of the characters' speech patterns, some tweaking is in order to distinguish the voices and add more variety to the prose.

A few thoughtful minutes, an awareness of the tendency, and the search function are usually all that's needed in remedy.

I myself am particularly guilty when it comes to "oh" and "sort of."

Cynsational Links

"E-Mail Submissions Made Easy" by Brandy S. Brow from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Jan Thornhill: official author/illustrator site features biography, information on books, illustration techniques with step-by-steps, school visits, links, etc. Thornhill's books include The Wildlife ABC & 124; Before & After: A Book of Nature Timescapes; The Rumor; and Over In The Meadow.

Madeleine Thien, author of The Chinese Violin (Whitecap Books, 2001), talks about writing, the beauty of reading, and the influence of her parents and of Malaysian culture in her work in an interview by Laura Atkins from

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Houdini: World's Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

"My mind is the key that sets me free."
-- Harry Houdini
Houdini: World's Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Walker, 2005). Brilliantly crafted picture book biography unveils (some) secrets behind the famous magician. Includes bibliography. Ages 7-up.

In coordination with the publication of the book, Walker is encouraging readers under age 14 to share with them the book that provided them with a great escape. In 25 words or fewer, readers should include the title and author of the book as well as an explanation as to why the book is so special to them. Each entry will receive a free bracelet (like the Lance Armstrong bracelets, only red) that is inscribed with the Houdini quote featured above. Readers should see the Walker site for details (though your friendly blogging Cyn couldn't find any).

I'm sporting my bracelet now and thus can verify that it is quite fetching.

Krull also is the author of another wonderful picture book biography A Woman For President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Jane Dyer (Walker, 2004)(ages 7-up)(see teacher's guide).

Cynsational News & Links

Author Spotlight: Anjali Banerjee, author of Maya Running from the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County. A new Q&A with a quickly rising star!

Author Anastasia Suen's blog led me to a list of children's/YA literary agencies at the Bologna Children's Book Fair (translation: players) and information on the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Collection Memorial Fellowship. Bookmark Anastasia for more news, including the latest changes at Harcourt!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Trust Your Reader

Greg is blogging this week about the importance of trusting your reader as related to potentially challenging vocabularly or references.

He talks about how critical it is to maintaining the authenticity of the point of view and secondary characters.

I'd like to offer another example or two.

Dialogue is too often filled with thinly veiled exposition. Here's an example:

"Son, I was just thinking about our people, those the white man call 'the Creek'--"

"Yes, Father, but we call ourselves 'Mvskoke' and--"

Nobody talks this way. Nobody has ever talked this way--outside of the aforementioned fiction and the occasional John Wayne movie. And what's the kid doing interrupting his dad right then anyway?

Characters shouldn't be mouthpieces for this kind of forced background information. It should be seamlessly integrated.

Another variation in children's/YA books with social justice themes is to have a character, especially an adult character (elder, teacher, grandparent, social worker), state the lesson the writer hopes that young readers will take away.

Trusting your reader in part means letting them come to those conclusions for themselves. Then they'll own the perspective and it will resonate with them in a deeper and more meaningful way.

Cynsational News & Links

Greg also talks this week about how one should Go Not To The Elves For Counsel...

Distractions and the Writers Who Love Them by Krysten Weller from Young Adult Books Central.

Lisa Yee's Blog is now online. Lisa is the author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius (Arthur A. Levine, 2003), winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. In other blog news, Avenging Sybil takes a look at female teen sexuality in YA novels. Note: I found out about both of these blogs from E. Lockhart.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems On Being Young And Latino In The United States edited by Lori M. Carlson

Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young And Latino in the United States edited by Lori M. Carlson, introduction by Oscar Hijuelos (Henry Holt, 2005). From the anthologist who brought us Cool Salsa, this new collection reaches farther and deeper, chronicling the perspective of young Latinos today. Includes helpful glossary and biographical notes. Featured poets include Gary Soto. Ages 12-up.

My Thoughts

I especially appreciated:

"My Shortest Food Poem" by Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. (giving voice to an oft expressed sentiment in these parts);

"Invisible Boundaries" by Ivette Alvarez (as female as Latino in perspective);

"love" by Gwylym Cano (because of course it is; did you just meet me?);

"El Parpadeo" by Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. (which is clever and amusing);

"Tia Chucha" by Luis S. Rodriguez (because even though they are different women, Tia Chucha reminds me in some ways of my own Aunt Anne to whom I dedicated Jingle Dancer);

"Martin and My Father" by David Hernandez (emotion packed and thoughtful, it includes my favorite line of the collection: "I kissed him with a poem.");

"In a Minute" by Robert B. Feliciano (because it's so true).

Cynsational News & Links

The Ben Franklin Award finalists for 2005 have been announced by the Independent Book Publishers Association. See the following categories: audio book--children's; children's picture book; children's book and audio book; and juvenile-young adult fiction.

Agent Nadia Cornier of the Creative Media Agency debuts her blog, Agent Obscura, and gives an example of a "fabulous query letter" (see the April 18, 2005 post).

Monday, April 18, 2005

Ella Enchanted (The Movie)

I saw the film "Ella Enchanted" last night and enjoyed it.

Despite my well documented Cinderella issues, I'd been a huge fan of the Newbery Honor Book and adore author Gail Carson Levine. It reminded me a lot of the Drew Barrymore vehicle "Ever After," and not just because they're both inspired by the classic tale.

"Ella Enchanted" is a fantasy, but otherwise both films (also somewhat like the title role's Anne Hathaway's Mia Thermopolis from yet another Cinderella story, "The Princess Diaries") put a modern spin on royal teens struggling with having been born into such a responsibility juxtaposed against their opportunity to affect change for the better.

In other words, substitute Ella's ogres, giants, and elves for Danielle's servants and gypsies, and you've got the societal context of the plot. My one thumbs-down was the eavesdropping snake.

Freddie Murchison-Kowalski from Greg's books would say the United States is a ridiculously royalty-obsessed nation for a democracy and prefers that her Opa call her "senator" rather than "princess" as a term of endearment. I'm inclined to agree, but notice that I did adore Gail's Ella, read much of Meg Cabot's TPD series, and saw all the aforementioned films.

Story princesses do seem to have improved in modern times, though just when you think real progress is being made, on pops a "cat fight" commercial for "The Bachelor."

Sidenote: I met Gail Carson Levine at my first TLA conference at the same publisher party where I met Joan Lowery Nixon, who invited a then nervous newcomer to join her at her table.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Author Open House

Yesterday afternoon, Greg and I were featured speakers at an Author Open House at the Howson Branch of Austin Public Library.

The program was in celebration of National Library Week. Other authors on the bill were Elizabeth Fernea, Lewis Gould, James Hornfischer, Camille Kress, J.F. Margos, Fernando Saralegui and Evan Carton.

The librarians were pitching Coretta Scott King Award Winner Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, which will be a highlighted title for their YAYA Book Club spring 2005 Series (5 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, Howson Branch, 2500 Exposition).

We were delighted to meet with so many Tarry Town readers, including writer Cynthia Levenson. Afterward, we had a pleasant surprise when we ran into author Lisa Waller Rogers at the pharmacy.

All in all, a splendid afternoon!

Cynsational News and Links

"Getting Past the Horror: The Beauty of the Synopsis" by Lisa Keeler from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Reminder to those entering the Hyperion Books for Children's Paul Zindel First Novel Award, the deadline is April 30.

From The Bank Street College of Education, the 2004 Irma Simonton Black and James. H. Black Award Winners are: Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Tale written and illustrated by Mo Willems (Hyperion). Honor Books: The Firekeeper's Son written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Julie Downing (Clarion Books); Henry and the Kite Dragon written by Bruce Edward Hall, illustrated by William Low (Philomel Books)(see photos of the book signing party!); Wild About Books written by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown (Knopf).*

A special congrats to my pal, Linda Sue!

It is also worth finding out what Greg is appalled about.

*Savvy Notice: most of these also were publisher "push" books.
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