Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Books Week, the CYBILS, and a creepy Jack & Jill poem

First, the Jack & Jill poem. This is one of those strange blog serendipities that I love. A few months ago, I wrote a post in which I was lamenting my tendency to complicate everything I write. As I said recently, "Give me a ball of yarn and I will tangle it." Well, in that post I said this:

I could take Jack and Jill and turn it into an epic with interweaving storylines, and then decide I need to learn ancient Greek in order to do it justice, and that it needs to be told alternately from the perspective of the hill and the pail. In five volumes. You know. I just can't help it.

And yesterday I got an email from someone who took that as a challenge, and wrote a poem (luckily not in ancient Greek), and now it is published at Strange Horizons. It's the darkest, creepiest retelling of Jack & Jill imaginable -- how cool is that? You never know when you throw something out on the internet what will happen. So, cool! Thanks for the heads up, Mary!

Now, Banned Books Week. This event, started by the American Library Association in 1982, is a celebration of our precious freedom of expression, and a nose-thumbing to all the Sarah Palins of the world who would like to control what we put into our minds. How to celebrate it? Flaunt your freedom: read a banned or challenged book! (Sheesh, they're still trying to ban The Chocolate War??? That book was published when I was two years old. Get over it, already! Forget that: Huckleberry Finn! The unfathomable depth of ignorance it takes to try to ban this important and perfect book. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in those people's heads.) Also, according to Maureen Johnson, book banners will eat your hamster!

And now, the CYBILS! That is: the Children's & Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards! If you haven't heard of them, basically these are book awards in 9 categories, and they were started because of a perceived need to fill the gap between the Newbery Award (which goes for books with high literary merit, though not necessarily the most child-beloved) and the Quills (pure popularity). This is the 3rd year and I volunteered and was selected as a panelist in the Fantasy & Sci-Fi category (yippee!) which means: I will be reading a lot of books in the next few months. I read a lot of books anyway, but now for the forseeable future they will be sci-fi and fantasy which, well, to be honest, they mostly are anyway. (Though I just finished this at breakfast and it was a great read. I love stories of naturalists in the Amazon, and this one has mystery and murder and lots of sweating and Englishmen wearing inappropriate clothing in the jungle!)

So here's the cool thing about the Cybils: YOU nominate the books. You can nominate one in each category, and we panelists will read them and select a short list to hand on to the judges, who will then select the winners. So, come on over to the blog to nominate your favorite books of the year, between October 1 and October 15. Jen Robinson has more details on nominating HERE. Please help spread the word to teachers, librarians, and young readers to get their favorite books nominated and be part of the process. (And please, for my sake, only select really good sci-fi and fantasy!!!)

One last things: Pushing Daisies starts tomorrow night! Get some pie to eat while you watch it!

(Did you know there's been a mobile Pie Hole traveling around the country serving free pie? Why the heck didn't it come here??)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Kidlitosphere Conference '08 -- Part III

After all the learning and note-taking of the day, it was time to mingle around and look at books and art, so from around 4 until the bell rang for happy hour (just kidding, there was no bell, just lots of internal happy hour clocks), we had an informal show 'n' tell. This purple-haired kindred spirit is Deb Lund, Washington-based writer; she gave me a copy of her new picture book, Monsters on Machines, which got a *starred review* from Publisher's Weekly and is a great book for little boys who like. . . monsters and bulldozers and dump trucks. It's so cute!

("Flinging dirt like tornadoes, they holler and hoot. Monsters love getting grimy from hard hat to boot. They transformed by the tractor, the crawler, the paver. But Bulldozers bringer out true monster behavior.")

I also fell in love with the illustrations of Portland artist Carolyn Conahan, who it turns out lives only blocks away from us!!! Here she is on the right:
Look at these adorable books:
This one is so right up my alley: weird nature facts, so much the better if they involve fish farts!
And this cartoon she did, I just swiped from her blog. Note that, awesomely, one cat is a zombie and the other is sporting the lastest in conference apparel: a genuine zombie sock puppet (Jaime, look what you've done!):
Thanks, Carolyn! I love this drawing!

It's so cool to meet creative and booky people, and how cool is it to meet them when they live in your neighborhood and you actually get to see them again? (Unlike a certain blue-haired librarian who has the gall to live in North Carolina.) One of the best things about this conference for me was meeting so many local writers and illustrators and bloggers; I put together a list and we now have plan for our own Kidlit Drinks Night to put the New York and Los Angeles version to shame. We have way better brewpubs here, anyway! (Email me if you want to be on this list; it doesn't always have to be "drinks" either; we might get coffee some time.) One of the other practically-neighbors we have just met is Matt Holm of Baby Mouse fame (he illustrates; his sister writes). Here he is signing a book for Portland YA author LK Madigan:

And here is Baby Mouse! This is the 9th in this series of graphic novels for young children, and it only just now occurs to me that I got two monster books last night. Matt was taking donations for this, which he was then going to donate to a charity that sends books to African children. Cool! I also scored a book -- Empress of the world -- from local novelist and youth services librarian Sara Ryan, which I am really excited to read.
Here are Readergirlz Holly Cupala, Dia Calhoun, and Lorie Ann Grover. Don't they look elegant? I mentioned Readergirlz and Dia and Lorie Ann in the last post; well, Holly just sold her first novel (and next) to HarperCollins and is awaiting her first editorial letter. Yay, Holly! The book is called A Light That Never Goes Out. Can't wait to read it!
And here is illustrator, fellow cupcake enthusiast, part-time SCBWI Sasquatch, and pioneer of the zombie sock puppet Jaime Temairik, with Holly Cupala and me. And here again is Jaime, with Kim Baker and Jolie Stekly:
This is sort of the first opportunity I've had in these posts to say how much I love these Western Washington SCBWI girls, as Jim and I call them. We first met them a few years ago when we attended their awesome Seattle conference, and in the way of SCBWI, get to see them a few times a year and we lurve them. They are up there on our favorite-people-in-the-world list and I am so glad they came down for our conference! We were missing Sara Easterly, who very recently gave birth to her first child, Violet. (Love that name.)

So, we moved from the book show 'n' tell out into the lounge area. Note the shift from coffee cups to other kinds of cups:
That's Newbery-Honor-winner Kirby Larson (also a Washington gal and part of our most-favorite-people list) with Pam Coughlan and Deb Lund in the foreground, and again:
(Kirby's beautiful new picture book, held up beside Deb's Monsters on Machines:
Two Bobbies, a wonderful true story about dog and cat best friends who stuck together through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Sniff, sniff. It's illustrated by Jean Cassels and is just beautiful.)

Apparently the guys were told they had to sit together:
With Mark Blevis and Greg Pincus, that's Philip Lee, co-founder of Lee & Low Books, who is now marketing consultant at Feiwel & Friends. We were excited to have someone from the publishing world attend, and Philip was very gracious with book donations and shwag (including Obama "YES WE CAN" buttons!) It looks like Mark took the opportunity to interview him:

Dinner was good, and I didn't take many pictures, but here is one of "the lucky table" -- our table must have bought a lot more raffle tickets than the others, because we won a lot of prizes (except for Suzanne, the unluckiest of the lucky).
Matt Holm and his wife Cyndi, particularly (that's her with the cool platinum hair; she's a wine-maker and they moved to Oregon from New York for the pinot noir!); proceeds of the raffle are being donated to Doernbecher Children's Hospital here in Portland, and the prizes were all contributions -- thanks to all who gave. Jim and I came away with a small stack of bookies, including, unexpectedly, a rerelease copy of Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle, which I probably read ten times as an early teen, and am so excited to read again. I think it will unleash a whole Madeleine L'Engle reread!

Thank you, Pam and Jackie, for the gift baskets of treats you presented to Jone and me; much appreciated and very sweet of you, and thanks to Sarah Stevenson for drawing the little portraits on our cards. They're so good! How you can get a likeness like that, drawing in ink no less?

It was after dinner that. . .

the zombie sock puppets made their entrance.
The quote of the night came when Jaime was discussing the fabrication of these scene-stealers, and how she found the rubber teeth at Michael's: "They're the perfect size teeth for socks." Probably hadn't been said anywhere else in the world that day. The zombies made the rounds, and those who weren't so fortunate as to get their hands in one (Cyndi, Matt, and Suzanne) played make-believe:
Alice Pope played along (looks a little like she saying, "Grr," huh?

I happened to look up from the zombie attack and notice that Jen Robinson and Mheir seemed to have come to the end of their day's allotment of energy:
Which was understandable. We kept Jen pretty busy yesterday -- thanks so much for all your participation, Jen!

That pretty much wraps things up. I want to say one last specific thank you to the publisher Flux for sending catalogs along with free book coupons to all participants. Their list of YA titles is so tantalizing I can't quite decide which one to pick for my free book!

For more posts about the conference, go HERE.

Kidlitosphere Conference '08 -- Part II

There is so much to tell about the conference, and I have so many photos, but I don't want these posts to become completely overwhelming, so I thought I'd begin with the "many faces of Betsy Bird" which I promised in my last post. Above you see Betsy with Ratha (star of Clare Bell's Ratha books; here, made out of pipe cleaners). Below you see Betsy with a sock of puppet Edward Cullen, or a zombie. I'm not sure which:
Betsy eating her chicken, captured on film by Suzanne Young:
And here is Betsy apparently caught in a moment of admiring her ring:
(With her are Lisa Nowak and Christine Fletcher -- Christine is a veterinarian/YA writer, which means she is living my childhood dream! And Lisa writes YA and used to build and race cars!!! So cool!)

And here, bribed into someone's room with chocolate:

Okay, so, Betsy Bird. She seems like a good place to start, because she was my own introduction into the "Kidlitosphere" back when Blackbringer was an ARC (advance review copy). Jim and I were in New York at the winter SCBWI conference, when Jolie Stekly and Sara Easterly told me, excitely, that while they'd been eating cupcakes with Betsy Bird that afternoon, she had pulled my book out of her bag and raved about it!!! This was very, very exciting. . . except for one little thing. I was deeply ignorant, and did not know who Betsy Bird was. Ulp! (Luckily for me, my editor was not ignorant, and had gotten Betsy my book!) I soon found out that she is a New York City librarian and the Queen Goddess of Children's Book Blogs, reads more picture books and middle grade than any other human alive, and writes many, many reviews for her wildly well-trafficked blog -- which at the time was Fuse #8, and is now hosted at School Library Journal. So, this really was very very exciting. I got to meet both Betsy and MotherReader Pam Coughlan that night, and from there, I went on to discover the Kidlitosphere and many other awesome blogs. And a few weeks after that meeting, Betsy posted the first ever review of my book, and it was the best possible beginning to my publishing journey, starting out: "If you read only one fantasy book this year, read this one." Thank you forever, Betsy! No matter what happens for the rest of my writing career, that will always be my first review.

As you can see in the photos above, Betsy is also very much fun at conferences! And from there, we shall segue into the actual conference. It's a good segue, because Betsy was on our opening panel, along with Readergirlz divas Dia Calhoun and Lorie Ann Grover, Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (CWIM) editor Alice Pope, and podcasting wizard Mark Blevis of Just One More Book, who came all the way from Ottowa!
Jone and I invited these five to comprise the panel because they give a good idea of the diversity of the "Kidlitosphere." Dia and Lorie Ann are both YA writers, but beyond that, Readergirlz is an amazing community in which they (and other divas) use Myspace to reach teen girl readers. They select a monthly book and host live chats with the author, as well as suggesting community service projects that girls might get involved in, inspired by the subjects they're reading about. And more. Check out their site; they really have a mission to help build strong, confident young women, and they use the many facets of the internet to this purpose. Then there's Betsy, who reads and reviews voraciously, as well as passing on news to readers about the publishing industry and all manner of related tidbits; Alice Pope, whose particular niche is the "CWIM" known and loved by all who are trying to break into children's publishing, and who connects with people via her blog; and Mark Blevis, who is foremost a parent of young children and who, with his wife Andrea, creates a thrice-weekly podcast about the books they and their daughters love. So: writers, librarians, publishing industry folk, parents. That's a taste of our community. Pretty cool, no?

The day was a whirlwind of panels, and since Jone and I were swirling around from one conference room to the other, I took nary a single note! But I did get to listen to almost everything, and learned a lot, and got inspired to be more active in the community, something I always mean to do, but fall short of. Be more active how? Oh, from the basics of leaving more comments and links, to doing more interviewing and giving more book recommendations. So, we'll see if I can do better!

The second discussion was Colleen Mondor and Jackie Parker talking about the Blog Blast Tours (there's a Summer one and a Winter one) which they are part of, along with a number of other bloggers. They each conduct interviews with authors of particular interest to them, covering a wide spectrum of books, and link to each other's posts to help readers find new sites. It's a good example of the kind of thing that newer bloggers and authors might do as they come to this community: set up their own group events and cross-promote each other's sites, all while they're spreading the word about books and writers.

We broke up into two sessions: Anastasia Suen got into the basics of beginning a blog, and Pam Coughlan talked about bumping your blog up to a new level. I only caught Pam's talk, and as I mentioned yesterday, part of what she talked about was the importance of connection: comments, links. She's a big proponent of posting daily, and thinks that group blogs are a good way to go if you don't have the time for that on your own. She also suggested having your comment "name" be something memorable, either your blog identity, or if you're a writer your full name, the idea being that if you have a common name, just leaving "Deb" or "Susan," it will take people a lot longer to click with who you are.

One other thing she mentioned that I hadn't thought much about is how active book bloggers like her have Amazon accounts whereby they get a % of any click-throughs from their blogs that result in sales -- and get this: not only do they get a commision on the actual linked item, but on everything purchased as a result of that click-through! So, if you blog frequently about books, you might want to get that set up. (Can't remember what it's called, but I'm sure it's easy to find.) Also, at the holidays, tell everyone to click through your blog before they shop Amazon; you can make some $$.

Sarah Stevenson (Finding Wonderland), Jackie Parker (Interactive Reader), and Jen Robinson (Jen Robinson's Book Page) talked about the CYBILS -- the Children's and Young adult Bloggers' Literary Awards -- which are just about to begin their 3rd award season. The reason this award was created was because its founders thought the Newbery awards were rewarding literary merit but not really choosing the most child-friendly books, whereas the Quill awards were going for popular books that maybe lacked literary merit; they wanted an award for all the wonderful books in the middle of the spectrum: loved by critics and children alike. Nominations in nine categories will open soon; anyone can nominate a single title per category.

At the same time, Mark was teaching the rest of the group how to podcast:

Jen Robinson and I presented a session together on the subject of "the meeting of authors and book reviewers." I think I may write a specific post about this in a few days, because there's a lot of information for writers. You know, as writers, we are sort of sent forth into the world by our publishers and told to promote, and most of us don't even know where to begin. Well, this community is a natural starting point, but there are ways to self-promote online and ways not to. We spoke about soliciting reviews, querying reviewers re: sending ARCs, how to respond to reviews afterward, and other protocol issues, etc. This was all stuff I truly wanted to know, and I figured other authors would want to know too. It was really helpful to me -- thank you, Jen, for helping me convey this information! More details in a later post.

Greg Pincus (aka Gregory K.) of Gottabook did a terrific presentation on using social networking for promotion. He is a self-proclaimed "geek" and has a geek's interest in the minutiae of viral web marketing, but his message was, again, not to be a shameless self-promoter. That is, don't send someone an email or leave them a comment that says, "Hello. I have written a book you are sure to adore. It's called Blah Blah." Rather, if there is someone you want to connect with, offer them information they will value, to show that you know and care who they are and what they do. For example, when Pam Coughlan was attending an Obama rally, a woman in the crowd asked Obama a question about reading, and he talked about reading with his daughters in the evening. Pam then was able to send an FYI email to Galleycat, a hugely well-read publishing industry site, passing that first-hand info along. I believe it was picked up, with a credit link, driving a swell of new traffic to her blog; on the other hand, if Pam had sent an email like "Hey, check out my awesome blog," it never would have been picked up. So: provide something of value. Your name will be attached, and that is way more effective self-promotion than the blatant kind. Yeah? By the way, Greg has an awesome voice. He should be in broadcasting.

HERE is a great wiki he created on Book Promotion on the Web -- must-read for all authors.

The last session of the day was split between Sara Zarr (pictured), talking about "the personal and the professional on author blogs" and a Group Blogging presentation by three authors in the Class of 2K8 and 2K9: Lisa Schroeder, Roseanne Parry, and Zu Vincent. Those group blogs represent authors whose first books are coming out in those years, and are a great way for writers to maximize marketing by banding together. I didn't get to see their workshop, but Jone said it was fabulous. Sara's presentation was excellent too. She talked about how she'd been blogging in a fairly personal way for a number of years before her first book ever came out, and how that changed everything, leading to a panicked deletion of her entire blog when it really sank in that lots of strangers would be reading her journals. One thing she said that made me think was this: if you choose to post about sensitive subjects like religion and politics, those posts should be "composed." That is, they should be essays, carefully written and revised, not quick gut-reaction posts. It's good advice -- we may want to share our views on important issues, but it's a good idea to be as thoughtful about it as you can. Sara recently posted an article on faith at YA for Obama, and it's clear she followed her own advice; it's an excellent piece.

Whew. This is taking a long time! I'm going to wrap up this segment of the conference here, and when I come back, it will be all fun and drinks and food! There are many photos yet to come; for now, I'll post this one:
Jone and I were both thrilled when Eric Kimmel showed up in the morning and said, "I just heard about this last night. Is it too late to register?" No! It's not! Eric Kimmel has written a crazy lot of books, and is known for his folklore adaptations and Judaic stories. When I first fell in love with picture books as an adult (in college, when I worked at a great independent bookstore), Trina Schart Hyman quickly became one of my favorite illustrators, and it was through her that I discovered Eric Kimmel, because she illustrated Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, a wonderful story with fabulous illustrations. I knew he lived in Portland, and it was great to have him at our conference!

Okay. More later. And remember: if you've posted about the conference, go to Kidlit08 and put in your link to the list!

Kidlitosphere Conference '08 -- Part I

We did it! The Second Annual Kidlit Bloggers' Conference has come and gone, and a long, wonderful day (and couple of evenings) spent in the company of fellow children's book lovers has come to a close.
This conference couldn't have happened without the hard work of Jone MacCulloch, school librarian, blogger, and book lover. Thank you, Jone, for putting this all together. It was my pleasure to help out, and I enjoyed our coffee dates working out hotel issues and workshop topics. I think it all came together beautifully! Yay, Jone!

If you've written a post about the conference, make sure to put up a link to it at the kidlit08 page, HERE. Thanks!

By the way, it's official: next year the conference will be in D.C., the Saturday before the National Book Festival (I'm not sure of the exact date, but in September), and Pam Coughlan, aka MotherReader, has agreed to organize. Thanks, Pam!

So. What to say about the conference? First of all, what is the "Kidlitosphere"? Basically it's an online community of people who blog about children's books, promote literacy, review books, talk about writing and illustrating, interview authors, and lots more. We had a lot of new bloggers at the conference, and part of what we talked about his: how do you become part of this community? I would say that, over the course of the day, the consensus that emerged was:

-- you find/create you niche: first and foremost you focus on creating your blog and being consistent with it; creating content you are passionate about and that will be interesting and valuable to others. If you can find a way of making your niche unique, so much the better.

-- second, to "penetrate the skin of the community" (a term that got bandied about with a bit of a smirk), you visit other blogs, read them and comment, become a part of the dialogue, participate in blog events, and keep at it persistently until you begin to get to know the other bloggers.

Community, of course, is the key, and to be a good member of the community it is essential to COMMENT and LINK. Pam remarked that comments have gone way down as a result of the boom in # of blogs, and she said she thinks the energy of the community can suffer; even if your stats are good, it's really the comments that may you feel connected to readers. When Jim and I left the hotel last night, she and Lee Wind were half-jokingly cooking up a "comment challenge" and I wonder if they came up with any serious idea. I think it could be fun. As for linking, when you find something of interest on another blog, throw a link their way.

For writers, this all connects to the idea of how we use our blogs for that dreaded business of promotion. We had a lot of authors at this conference, particularly a lot whose first books are coming out in the next year or two -- they have to learn to use the blogosphere for promotional purposes without becoming an irritating "blatant self-promoter." So that was something we talked about a lot too. Really good stuff.

But I'll leave content for another post. For now, here are some pictures of our Friday night gathering, beginning at the hotel:
(clockwise from me: Suzanne Young, Jone, Alma Alexander, Jackie Parker, Collen Mondor, Pam, Maureen Kearney, Anastasia Suen, and Jim.)

From there we went to the wonderland of Powell's, which everyone has heard of, but some people do not realize is an entire city block and four stories of books. They had a political display:
Here are: Suzanne Young (aka "that girl who wrote nine books in one year," Lee Wind (about whom Jim and I have asked each other, "Do you think he could really be that nice, or is it a trick?" "No, I think he must really be that nice!"), Anastasia Suen, Jim Di Bartolo (aka husband), Kim Baker, and MotherReader:
Suzanne was the first person we found when we got to the hotel to meet everyone on Friday afternoon, and I immediately recognized her face from her blog, which I had found via the Disco Mermaids. Suzanne is a great blog success story, because her agent found her via her blog, liked her, and asked to read some manuscripts!!! She now has a two-book deal with Razorbill, and her first book, Smitten Kittens, is coming out in. . . '09 or '10. (I can't remember!) And, even though she writes fast and qualifies as a ROBOT, she is adorable and really fun and Jim and I had a great time hanging out with her this weekend and sending the Disco Mermaids taunting pictures by telephone, chiding them for not being with us. Here we are being very serious with mermaid Jay Asher's NYTimes bestselling book, Thirteen Reasons Why:
But why am I talking about the Mermaids? They didn't even come to the conference! (pthwtt!)

At dinner, Jim and I sat with Colleen Mondor and Jackie Parker (here with Mark Blevis who snuck in for the photo.)
Colleen blogs at Chasing Ray (as in Ray Bradbury; gotta love a Ray Bradbury lover!), and posts book reviews at Bookslut, Booklist, and Guys Lit Wire (helping teen guys find books), not to mention organizing the Blog Blast Tours, but more on that later. Jackie is a teen librarian who blogs at Interactive Reader and also does a ton of blog/book stuff, including Blog Blast Tours, Readergirlz, and being the head of the Cybils YA category. These two are both so involved in the book/blog worlds, and do so much to promote reading and authors. And they're funny.

Too. Many. Links. Must get a post up, so I'm just going to put up some pictures of the rest of the folk who were out and about on Friday night, and that will have to be Part I of the conference posts:
(l to r: Alice Pope's husband; Adrienne Furness, Bridget Zinn, Farida Dowler, Pam Coughlan, Mark Blevis, Jone MacCulloch)
(Kim Baker, Lee Wind, Suzanne Young, Dana Arnim, Laurie Thompson, Jolie Stekly, Jaime Temairik)
(Alma Alexander, Jen Robinson's husband Mheir & Jen, Maureen Kearney, Anastasia Suen, Clare Bell)

This is jumping ahead, but here's the group photo from last night, so people can pull it off for their own blogs:

And yet to come, the actual conference, more photos of awesome folks, some information, links, the many faces of Betsy Bird, the unexpected (and very welcome) arrival of Eric Kimmel, and. . . the terrifying attack of the Zombie Sock Puppets of Jaime Temairik: