Monday, September 27, 2010

When booksellers read

This past weekend, our store held a "bookseller showcase" event in honor of a co-worker's recent publication. Unsurprisingly, the staff is peopled with writers, and I've definitely got some talented co-workers. There were poems and stories, kids' pieces and really-not-for-kids pieces. The audience wasn't huge, but it was the kind of crowd that shows up ready to be supportive. A group that laughed and applauded in all the right places for adult pieces could have decided to be too cool for my middle grade piece, but nope. The two of us who read children's pieces were welcomed and made to feel our writing was as "real" as everyone else's.

I don't know how much of the audience was comprised of readers' friends and family--probably a significant portion. But the first person who showed up was pure customer. Asked if she was there for one of us in particular, she replied, "All of you! I've been shopping at the store for years, and when I saw this event on the calendar, I thought, 'It's about time.'"

As someone who now knows the people she works with just a bit better, I agree.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Funny Business: None of my business?

Guys Read: Funny Business arrived at the store yesterday, and I jumped at the chance to festoon the display with my staff rec. There are parts of this book that I just appreciate on behalf of the intended audience, but there are also parts that I personally found hilarious.

The shelf tag says, Bookseller Shoshana recommends Guys Read: Funny Business. See? You don't even have to be a guy.

I hope it helps sell some copies to readers of both sexes. Part of me wonders, though, if young male customers will see my recommendation and think, Oh, goodie, some lady thinks I should like this.

During the same register shift, I also wrote a staff rec for Songs for the Butcher's Daughter, a beautifully layered historical fiction novel that's in large part about the Jewish experience. Again, I wonder what the effect will be if customers happen to notice my name and realize it's a Hebrew one (not unlikely in this community). Will Jewish customers think I'm in the know? Will non-Jewish customers assume the novel's not for them?

Well, customers and others, I'm here to tell you that they're both good books, whoever you are. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

That's horrible!... That's horrible.

So I'm reading The Onion's Our Dumb World, a fairly comprehensive world atlas that just happens to be one big joke. Like most Onion material, it's very clever and very willing to make fun of pretty much anything. When you're looking for jokes to make about all the countries in the world, you end up with a lot of dark humor. In between the amusing little jabs at regional quirks, there are jokes, and plenty of them, about starvation, violence, disease, and any number of calamities that the sufferers themselves may not find very funny.

But here's the thing: although I'm certainly not reading for accuracy of information, the atlas is serving as a reminder that a heck of a lot of things are wrong with our world. I knew that already, of course, but seeing all at once how much fodder our sometimes-wonderful, sometimes-dumb world provides for tasteless humor makes now seem like a good time to help.

Humor works, is what I'm saying.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

When things heat up

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Girl Who Played with Fire. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Graceling. Fire. Bitterblue.

The Hunger Games. Catching Fire. Mockingjay.

Notice a pattern? (Or two or three?)

Fire keeps ending up in the second titles of trilogies, and it makes sense that it does. To me, at least, a "fire" title says that the first book may have started things off, but now, now, they're going to get intense. Cool-colored covers are for conclusions. The middle of the story is red-hot, or at least, it should be if it's to attract readers and keep the trilogy going.

Still, the trend makes me glad The Giving Tree never became a trilogy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nano? No. Jono.

NaNoWriMo is a heck of a thing, and I have loads of admiration for people who do it. For the unhazed, Na(tional)No(vel)Wri(ting)Mo(nth) participants commit to writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. That's a thirty-day month, people. With Thanksgiving in it. For most people, the idea is to get it all down without stressing about the details and with the support of other participants, and then revise in December and beyond, presumably with lots of hot cocoa.

Setting a writing goal and meeting it with lots of people's support has appeal even if one doesn't have the speed-typing skills necessary for NaNo. That's the idea behind JoNoWriMo+1.5, a LiveJournal community founded by YA author Jo Knowles. Participants set a goal to meet between September 16 and December 1. The goal can be anything, from "finish my novel" to "write every day" to "figure out what the heck this novel's about." There are four check-in dates and plenty of posts to the community in between.

I've joined once again, and this year, my goal is to get through all the high-level revisions currently on my revision list. Cutting down on my overuse of the word look can wait; turning a flat character into a round one cannot. New concerns will probably arise as I tackle the current ones, but this goal will ensure that I spend lots of time really thinking about and improving my manuscript.

Jooooooooin us. (If you want to.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chapter 1 all over again

I'm back from celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The holiday puts a lot of emphasis on reflection. What was important this year, and what do we hope will happen in the coming year? What was a blessing, what are we proud of, what did we overcome, and what do we want to handle better the next time it comes around?

We could call it a new year at any point. (In fact, we'll do it again in January, though let's be honest: more things begin in September than in January.) But I tend to see everything as a story, which means I buy into this stuff. Think about it--if the characters in a book spent two days singing about the year to come and eating apples and honey in hopes for metaphorical sweetness, wouldn't that mean something?

I'm not saying I know what it means. But whether or not it's a new year for you, this seems a good time to wish you a near future full of good friends and good family, good work and good fun, good present and good prospects, good reading and good writing.

Have a happy next chapter.

Monday, September 6, 2010

My (al)most excellent encounter

I had just ascended a ladder to the YA overstock shelf yesterday when a customer took My Most Excellent Year, by Steve Kluger, off the shelf. He declined my standard offer of help and chuckled at my staff rec, which says something like, If you like theater, the Red Sox, Julie Andrews, or a little town called Brookline, check this one out. (Seriously, do.) Usually, when I see a customer looking at that book, I say, "That's a really good one." But this customer had obviously seen my staff rec and it seemed like overkill to also recommend it verbally, so I continued my intrepid search for whichever book I needed at the time and didn't notice that the customer had taken all three copies of MMEY from the shelf.

A few minutes later, a co-worker arrived in search of the remaining copies, which were in - you guessed it - overstock. Why the need for all the copies? So the author could sign them, of course.

Mr. Kluger, I wish I had said so while you were standing there, but My Most Excellent Year is a really good book. Nice to almost meet you.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

It's possible I need to get out more.

I dreamed last night that Go! Go! Go!, the pop-up book by Roxie Munro, was in my to-read pile, making all the books on top of it fall over. In the dream, the book made fire truck noises every time I opened it, which was a problem because I wanted to read it around three in the morning. It was very important that I spend my imaginary insomniac time (which followed a bit of actual insomniac time) getting this important reading done, but the dream didn't last long enough for me to resolve the dilemma.

This may be the result of eating Mexican chocolate ice cream before bed.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Literary Love: "Will," by Adam Rex

My T reading this morning was the first half of the Guys Read: Funny Business ARC I recently yoinked from a friend. All signs point toward its being creative, hilarious, and appealing even to girly old me, but I've known that since hearing most of its authors speak on a BEA panel. Six stories later (well, five stories and a note about why one author's story wasn't ready for the ARC), I have lots of good things to say about the collection as a whole, but "Will," by Adam Rex, stands out.

Will goes to THAT school, the one people keep writing books about. The one where kids keep finding out they're wizards, demigods, or other fantastical protagonists. His class keeps shrinking, and the crucial years of early adolescence are passing rapidly for Will with nary an owl in sight. It's becoming clear that Will is nothing inherently special. But (spoiler) when danger strikes him and his remaining classmates, he manages to save the day--not by winning the magic-powers lottery, but rather of his own free... well, you get the idea.

The story does a great job of showing the power of personal choice and the ability of mortals to make their own destiny and all, but it does more than that. It lets kids in on the joke. It says to them, "Hey, you know this reading world we belong to? Well, you and I both know it's got a crazy number of magical kids in it. Let's make fun of that--affectionately, of course."

As far as I'm concerned, that's one of the best things humor can do.