Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I have an agent!

I've said before that gratitude is a major theme for me this year. That continues to be true. Another theme? Stupefied amazement.

Back in April, before I had any clue of how much else would change in the near future, I submitted a middle grade realistic novel to Carrie Howland at Donadio & Olson, at the encouragement of my friend Susan, who was an intern there. And then I started work on another manuscript, and then I started working at The Horn Book, and the submission, to some degree, moved to the back of my mind. (Mostly.)

Fast-forward to last month, while I was settling into my new job, learning lots, and occasionally worrying that "the dummy" people kept talking about was me. (See? I make magazine production jokes now!) A very sweet email arrived from Carrie, who asked if I was still looking for representation. Many emails later, I find myself in possession of her very thorough and insightful editorial letter. I'm really impressed with her ideas for revisions; as I often hear authors say in situations like this, we've clicked.

For the uninitiated, what this means is that I'll work on revisions with Carrie's guidance, and when we both agree that the manuscript is ready, she'll send it out to publishers. It does not mean I'll have a book deal tomorrow. It does mean that the manuscript will get closer to being publishable, and will then be seen by people who might have a real interest in publishing it. It means that these characters I've grown to love may really meet the imagined readers I've also grown to love.

That'll do, 2014. That'll do.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thanksblogging 2014

Thanksgiving is among my favorite holidays. That's partly because of a deep-seated family tradition of dozens of us eating way too much at my Aunt Shirley's, but it's also because of the spirit of the holiday. Being alive is pretty amazing, and so is being healthy and having plenty to eat and a place to live and supportive family and friends, and I'm in favor of noticing that and celebrating it. A few years and an eternity ago, I spent November Thanksblogging about blessings specifically related to children's books, and I find I have enough new ones, and new perspectives on old ones, that it's worth revisiting.

I'm thankful for new endeavors. A heck of a lot has happened in the past four months, and I find myself scrambling to learn all there is to know about working on a magazine. In between checking the handbook and getting used to a Mac, I'm working with in-depth reviews and articles for a publication that's been "blow[ing] the horn for fine books for boys and girls" for ninety years. In terms of good children's lit discussion, it's a horn of plenty. (I'm probably going to get made fun of for that tomorrow.)

And I'm thankful for past children's lit contexts, too. I'd be a different person today without Brookline Booksmith or Simmons College, both of which got me talking and writing about children's books. There's no better way to learn about them, except maybe to read them with children. I'm thankful for the chances I've had to do that, too.

Oh, and I suppose the time I spent as a reading child is also worth acknowledging. Nostalgia for childhood reading has come up a few times recently (I won't even get into the whole Princess Bride debate, except to say I love how a book and movie about what stories mean to people mean so much to people themselves). The first books we love aren't necessarily the best books we'll ever read. But I know I reread my favorites (or dwelt in their series) much more than I reread anything nowadays. Kids watch the same movies over and over, and in many cases, they read the same books. If they're lucky, someone shares those books with them. We have time to get to know our favorites when we're young, to make friends with their characters, to let them teach us about the kinds of readers we are. I'm thankful for parents and teachers who read to me and handed me good books to read myself. I'm also thankful that they threw up their hands and let me read series they thought weren't as worthwhile, and sometimes even read those series with me. I don't think it's a  coincidence that this '90s kid, who ate up the series that were popular then (excepting Goosebumps, which wasn't my thing), grew up to be a realistic fiction reader and writer. 

Happy Thanksgiving. May your travels, if you make them, involve a good book.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Oh, you know the carols are coming.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Time for autumn releases.
The pile increases
as new books premiere,
books you must, truly must hand the cashier.

It's the fangirliest season of all.
The events are aligning.
The authors are signing.
They're friends, come to call.
There's your name in their authorial scrawl.

There'll be trends new and shiny,
books tiny and spiny,
to give and to keep and to lend
There'll be sequels and prequels,
and no feeling equals
the oomph of a well-crafted end.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Time for eagerly delving
and maybe some shelving
as more books appear!
It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A story with gaps

On October 11, 2008, coming off a happy summer that had involved a great internship and a lot of tree-climbing, I climbed one last tree on the Simmons campus. I sat for a while--it was quite a nice day for October--and read from the dual volume of Ragged Dick and Struggling Upward from my Nineteenth Century American Children's Literature class and from the copy of Much Ado About Anne I'd yoinked from The Horn Book's "No Shelf." When I finally decided to go inside, I guess I didn't properly mind the gap between the branch I was sitting on and the one I wanted to step onto.

Fractured spines and shoulders aren't fun, and the next few months were not my favorite time.

There were certainly good things in the gap between then and now. I graduated from Simmons. I healed enough to work in a great bookstore, and I got to know a lot of wonderful people. But I never liked October 11.

Here's how I spent October 11 this year. I spent it in thoughtful discussions of gaps in children's book content, and of logistical and economic gaps between books and the readers who need them. I spent it surrounded by people who care a lot about stories and how we tell them and how we get them to kids. I spent parts of it behind the registration table and behind bookcarts full of swag bags. I spent it (and the awards ceremony last night) with good friends old and new. And in case anyone requires reassurance, I spent it on solid ground.

These snippets of a story, meaningful to one individual with an overdeveloped storytelling impulse, don't have much children's lit significance. But maybe they mean Pollyanna was onto something.

And they definitely mean that I, like Anne, shouldn't walk ridgepoles.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anastasia returns! (No Russian royalty involved.)

Things I love:
-nerdy main characters
-even nerdier parents
-budding-nerd little brothers
-hilarity, especially when it has completely logical reasons for ensuing
-Anastasia Krupnik

Some months ago, a young bookstore customer interrupted my handselling pitch for Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik around "and she lives in Cambridge!" to ask, "Did you write that book?" I realized afterwards that, as I was wearing my glasses that day, I looked a bit like the cover photo. But initially, I thought he was asking because I was so excited about it.

"I wish!" I answered.

And I'm equally excited that the Anastasia books will be re-released starting in January! (Excuse me for a moment while I look askance at the term YA in the linked article and decide that an argument could sort of be made for the later books. Sort of. Okay, that's out of my system.) Maybe it's because realistic fiction is cool again. Maybe it's because the author finally got her Giver movie, though I think that's less of a good reason; the author's ability to do lots of very different things very well does not make for readalikes. (My 1992 printing of Anastasia at this Address - $3.50, by the way - boasts, "By the author of the Newbery Medal winner Number the Stars." That's lovely, but it doesn't mean readers who loved a Holocaust book will love a comedy about a preteen answering an adult's personal ad.) But whatever the reason, I'm very excited that these books might get into more young hands.

Anastasia pays attention to the world around her. She's a reader and a listener, and finds herself interested in language and concepts she doesn't fully understand (echoes of Green Gables, anyone?). She's uncool and wants to be cooler, and is terrible at it in linguistically fascinating ways. Her parents take her seriously enough - or maybe just love their own fields of interest enough - to get into discussions of Wordsworth with her when she's ten. Her little brother Sam gets his own series, and it's funny without being gimmicky. Madcap things happen in many of the books (exploding perfume! Gerbils everywhere! Postal dog doo!), but they happen for reasons that make perfect sense if you follow along with the characters' thought processes.

Welcome back, Anastasia.

ETA: I don't think I'll be mistaken for the Anastasia on the new cover...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I don't have the precision of language for all the feelings I'm feeling.

I have seen the Giver movie.

I can't bring myself to call it just The Giver. The Giver is a book, one that's meant a lot to me back and back and back. Back to, probably, early 1993, when an ALA-active family friend with access to this amazing thing called advance copies told me that Lois Lowry had a new book, very different from my beloved Anastasia books, and I agreed that the idea of suddenly seeing color without knowing what it was sounded fascinating. Back to my first reading, when I got to feel more informed than the characters as I figured out what information they lacked that was second nature to me. Back to the first time I reached the ending, when I realized agonizingly that maybe Jonas died and maybe he didn't, and either way, we weren't going to get to see what happened in the Community after Jonas released the memories. ("I hope she writes a sequel," I said to my mom. "Some books are better left on their own," she replied.) Back to the eighth grade essay I wrote about some of the big questions The Giver raised, something to the effect of, "The only way for it to be fair for people to be treated exactly the same is for them to be exactly the same." Back to my agony when sequels did appear and were interesting but didn't answer my questions about the Community's fate, and my further agony when early buzz about the movie made it look horribly commercial, and later buzz made it look not so bad.

Yeah. When I finally watched the first lines, I had more with me than two lovely viewing companions and a box of Junior Mints. But I was determined to give the film a chance.

The first few lines didn't do it for me. First-person narration has its place, but in this case, a Jonas apparently speaking from the future told us way too much. One of the best things about encountering this story in its original form is that Jonas doesn't know much about his world, and the reader gets to figure everything out. Still, the first half of the movie got some things right. It sped through a lot of revelations (um, maybe explain the Community's stance on twins so it can be knocked down?). But character ages aside, it preserved a lot of the important details of the Ceremonies. Jeff Bridges was perfect, and so, by the way, was Emma Tremblay as Lily. The emphasis on Jonas's love for Gabriel was just right, even if it had to fight for screen time with other things being emphasized.

Beyond that, the movie took some interesting directions. It made Fiona a completely different character - an interesting character, just not Fiona. Ditto the Chief Elder and Asher and Jonas's mom. The last third was an exciting action sequence with characters making exciting choices, but the action-packed parts were their own story, not The Giver's.

That's the thing about The Giver: it basically established the modern formula for YA dystopia, and in its relative simplicity, it raised lots of possibilities for stories of people attempting utopias and, well, dissing them. Remember the recent tidal wave of dystopian YA novels? Lots of people explored those possibilities and came up with new, if related, stories. Matched, for instance, is in many ways essentially The Giver with romance. The Giver is not.


I should add that as of a week and a half ago, I'm approaching the children's book field from a new angle, one I'm very excited about. After four and a half years learning a heck of a lot as a children's bookseller (whatever else I might say about the Giver movie, I know it will bring the book to lots of new readers), I'm now an editorial assistant at The Horn Book. I don't know exactly how this blog will evolve, but as always, opinions expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In a world where Bridge to Terabithia gives me hope for The Giver...

Remember the ads for the 2007 Bridge to Terabithia movie?

Bridge to Terabithia is not a fantasy. It is not about giant fantasy creatures leaving giant footprints. It is not the kind of story that calls for a power voiceover. It's Bridge to Terabithia, not BRIDGE. TO TERABITHIA.

The thing is, the movie turned out to be a faithful adaptation. The fantasy creatures showed up for about as long as they did in the trailer, and they played the same role that Terabithia played in the book: they we clearly creations of the characters' imaginations. Hollywood made a trailer using the moments it believed would put butts in the seats, but first it made a movie that respected the book and its fans.

Which brings me to this:

The studio has assured us that the movie will begin in black and white, as it should. We know that Hollywood has aged Jonas up and gathered a cast so all-star, it's made a few jaws drop. I'm not expecting a completely faithful adaptation; there's no beaming up in The Giver, but there is in this trailer. Maybe, though, the beaming up is less significant than it looks. Maybe it's a dream sequence.

The source of my renewed optimism is this article. Clearly, there've been some changes to the story (Jonas has a "girlfriend," huh?), but the reporter seems to have viewed a story that's very recognizable as The Giver in both theme and plot. (The Washington Post deserves kudos for its informed writing about YA, here and elsewhere.)

I'm still going into this one warily, and I'm sure I'll find things to rant about, maybe even big things. But maybe, just maybe, the moments chosen to put butts in the seats don't represent the movie's essence. And whatever else Hollywood did, it kept the title, which means more people are going to read the book.