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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Many hats

In the next few weeks, I'm going to be speaking to several groups about books, reading, and writing. The topics range from non-fiction books and non-fiction writing to books for middle grade and teens (to a group of teens) to elementary librarians and fiction writers.

As I prepare for each of these events, I'm feeling somewhat schizophrenic. My tastes tend to run along the middle grade/young adult line -- fantasy, historical fiction, humor. So when I'm working on speaking events for other topics, I feel as if I'm doing homework. And switching from topic to topic makes it feel just like high school. To be honest, when I'm finished, I feel more of a sense of accomplishment than I did in high school, and I think that's what keeps me agreeing to do more events out of my "comfort zone."

I'm continuing to read for the New Voices committee. It's amazing the variety of books that are being published by new writers. Many of them are really very interesting. I am falling behind on reading though. And my own writing has been suffering because of this. My spare time has been taken up with reading other's work. Not that that's a bad thing.

On a side note, wishing all the best to the readers and writers in the South who are recovering from the devastion of the recent tornadoes. And to the mid-westerners who are dealing with the flooding.

Keep reading.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

It's author season!

Publishers are not sending authors on tour nearly as much as they used to. Truthfully, all the authors coming to the store have either scheduled their own visits (because they are passing through), or the author is local.

That said, the store does have some really great people visiting the store in the next month or two.
To start off, we have George Ella Lyon coming to promote ALL THE WATER IN THE WORLD, a picture book about water conservation and use. If you ever get a chance to meet George Ella and hear her speak, take the chance. You'l not meet a more fascinating and gentile lady.

Writer Tracie Vaughn Zimmer is next in the line up. We first met Tracie when she moved back to Cincinnati and was promoting her book REACHING FOR SUN (which became an award winner). This time around, she's talking about her poetry collection COUSINS OF CLOUDS, poems about elephants. There are many hidden gems in this book. It's well worth spending some time discovering it.

Next is the talented illustrator Christina Wald. Christina's new book is HABITAT SPY. Christina has done several terrific books about nature for Sylvan Dell, and this one is one of them.

And finally, author/illustrator Will Hillenbrand is visiting the store. Will will be signing his new books SPRING IS HERE and MOTHER GOOSE PICTURE PUZZLES. I'm a big fan of Will's art and writing. He's produced more than 50 books in his career, and none have been a disappointment.

I'll be dropping in here to let you know how things went in the future.

Keep reading.

Curse You, UPS Man!

As my journey into being on an awards committee continues, I'm begining to hate the UPS man. He never just drives right on by. With the submissions for the awards committee, the review copies sent from my editor at READING TODAY, and my daughter's college book orders, he stops every time. Truthfully, I don't think he's much liking me either.

One of my neighbors even asked if I'd started a home business given the frequency of deliveries. (Don't you just love neighbors who know more about your personal life than your own children? I wanted so badly to say, "Uh, no, just building something in my garage. By the way, your home insurance is paid up, isn't it?")

In the meantime, some of my favorite authors have books coming out this season (and next) and those books are calling my name as well. I've decided to alternate. Read an award submission. Read a favorite author. It's the best compromise I can come up with.

I have read a good book recently. It's called HOURGLASS by Myra McIntire. Due out in May or June (depending on what sources you check). It's listed as a "time-slip" romance. It was quite well-written, and it does hold one's attention. This one will appeal to those who love SHIVER by Stephanie Stiefvater or like CHIME by Franny Billingsley. Not only does it have a romance (mostly chemistry that is literally and figuratively, electric), but it also has special powers (think X-Men), mystery, and suspense. And it has a great fast pace that keeps the reader turning pages. The really nice part is that McIntire manages to keep it real with the characters without putting anything in the text that's going to keep it off the school library shelves or the hands of younger readers of ages 12-14.

I think this one's going to catch the teen audience's attention.

What's next? Well, it arrived today in the store: the ARC of THE POWER OF SIX. Sequel to I AM NUMBER FOUR. I see a sleepless night ahead.

Keep reading.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Matter of Taste

 When I started this blog, I told myself I'd keep out of the "controversy of the day" as much as possible. But recently, a blog that has gone viral piqued my interest. I think the teacher in me began to see this as a "teachable moment."

This blog is a review of a self-published (often referred to as an independently published) e-book. The reviewer gave the novel a fairly good review on plot and description but was concerned that the grammar and sentence structure often got in the way of the story itself.

The author retaliated. Loudly. Rudely. And profanely. You can find the blog here.

What followed was a public tirade by the author herself, along with a multitude of responses telling the author to apologize, take the criticism like and adult, and be a little more professional. Obviously, for those of you who read all the comments, this did not sink in. 

There are several lessons to be learned here:

    1. NOT EVERYONE WILL LIKE YOUR WRITING, not matter how good it is.
     This is a tough one for new writers (and some very experienced ones as well). This work is your baby, and someone is pointing out its flaws. How dare they?! 
      Having been involved in an "open" writing group for many years, I find this to be a very common problem. Many of our first-timers come not wanting honest critiques but rather lavish praise piled high upon their flawless writing. When they don't get that, they often get angry and defensive. Most we never see again.
   The group is very gentle in its approach, often wrapping their criticism in excellent suggestions on possible fixes or solutions. That doesn't seem to help.
    No writer is going to tell you that constructive criticism feels good, but good ones will tell you it's necessary. They will tell you it's a learning experience. And they'll tell you that you have two ears and one mouth. When accepting criticism, it's best to use them in that proportion. 

   That's why there are such things as second editions.
   One "famous" flaw is the cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Harry is playing Quiditch without robes. And he's supposed to be wearing his cousin's clothes, but the cover shows them being skin-tight.
   There's always room for improvement. 

   For me:
   Catcher in the Rye. Why anyone would to read a whole book about a self-absorbed, spoiled, whinny young man?
    The Outsiders. I never have been able to understand its appeal, except maybe its young author.
   Love You Forever. This a picture book given at almost every baby shower in the country. I see it as a manual for stalking. Every time we read this to young children, we say it's okay to do such a thing as long as it's done out of love.

      When seen as a hobby, writers don't see a need to revise work. Don't see it as a business. Don't see the a need to charge for their services, or they undercharge for them.
      What's the harm? Well, for those who do see this as a profession and try to make a living doing it, these writers devalue all writing. They flood the publishing houses with less than stellar work, causing the houses to close their doors to legitimate submissions. They run the price down so low on magazine and other pieces that it's no longer worth the time of professional writers to submit. And in the end, readers suffer. They don't get the quality they expect. They don't get the variety they need.

       That's what it boils down to, really. Yes, it's on the web, or it could be in a national publication. Still, it's just one person's opinion. Lots of award-winning and/or financially successful books have received negative reviews. It happens.
      Take the review with a grain of salt and move on. Don't retaliate, call the reviewer out, or create a negative public image to go along with the negative review.

  Lessons to be learned indeed. But sometimes, even the best advice falls on deaf ears.

Keep reading.