Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chiming in (again) on the whole "YA ghetto" thing

Ugh, who are these people? And where are they? I'm lucky to never have to meet them, ever ever EVER. I hear about them second-hand (from friends who've done MFA programs mostly), and I read about them in articles like this**. I'm talking about the people who apparently think good books should not be published for teenagers, but only for adults.

I mean, as soon as a YA book is considered "good," they think it should be tagged for adults and rescued from "the ghetto" to be shelved in general fiction. So, teens should only get the dregs, the stuff that doesn't "cut it" for adults? Isn't that what this attitude implies?

This discussion of "What is YA?" is getting so old to me. Why define it to death? Young adult books are books of interest to young adults. Duh. That generally means the characters are of a relatable age. It does not mean they are books for slightly dumb, not-fully-formed human beings with smaller vocabularies than adults. The subject matter is vast, and transcend all genre borders. Is it the books themselves that are either YA or adult, or is it only the marketing that divides them? I think the answer to that is: depends on the book.

Some classic books are now shelved in YA that were once in general fiction or general sci-fi/fantasy. You hear this often said of Ender's Game, or The Catcher in the Rye. There are those out there who cry foul to see these books shelved in YA. To which I say: whatever those authors may have intended, those books are YA all the way. Which is not to say adults shouldn't read them too, but only to say: they should be put where teens can find them, because teens will like them, and we should do everything we can to put books in their hands. They are more important than adults.

Many (most?) YA books, though, are written with a teen audience in mind. Many (most?) authors of these books are happy to sell these books to youth imprints and have them shelved in the YA section. I have no patience for authors who are offended when their books "only" sell to youth publishers and are marketed to teens. I ask you: why write about young characters at all if you despise young people so much as to suggest they're not good enough to read your book?

I know, I know. The argument isn't that teens aren't good enough, it's just that these authors want grown-up validation. They want teen and adult readers both, and adults, en masse, still haven't got the courage to shop in the YA section. So they'd rather the books be shelved with the grown-up, serious works, and any teen who is worthy of reading them will be browsing there anyway, and then these writers can have their literary cake and eat it too, and their MFA friends will not cast them pitying looks. Oh, dear god. I really think that if you don't intuitively feel the tremendous value of writing books for this very important segment of our population, you should not write books that risk getting confused for YA. Write about old grumpy middle-aged academic couples with marital problems. Write about adult children of screwed-up families who have to go home and care for mean elderly parents with dementia. You can have that. Teenagers won't bother you there.

Teens are an audience any writer would be lucky to get. Kids too. Kids and teens aren't going to pretend to like your books because the lit-snob aristoi tell them they should. You have to earn them. And if you do, you will have earned readers who will write you wonderful emails, read your book ten times and tell their friends to read them too, create art about your books, dress up as your characters for Halloween, sneak under the covers with a flashlight to stay up late reading. You will have earned readers who will be transformed, and who will tell you so. If you don't want them, you really really don't deserve them.

Lately, something weird has been happening in the sci-fi/fantasy world, and that's this: YA books have been winning major awards, or at the very least being shortlisted for them. Not awards set aside for YA, but the big awards: the Nebula, the Locus Award, etc. There is some disgruntlement about this (again, I ask, who are you people?), which the writer John Scalzi answers in his typical brilliant way:

"Yes, how horrible it is that some of what’s being hailed as the best science fiction and fantasy written today is in a literary category designed to encourage millions of young people to read for the rest of their natural lives. Because God knows the last thing science fiction and fantasy publishing needs right now is whole generation of new and enthusiastic readers who might actually get hooked into the genre until they die. It’s a goddamn tragedy, it is."

Yeah, what he said.

I want to add, it's the adults who need to get over themselves and read good books regardless of what shelf they're on at the bookstore, rather than making books of interest to teens harder for teens to find. Quit making this about adults. Young readers are vastly important and we should be doing everything-everything-everything to get them reading and keep them reading. Worry less about adults: create readers young and the rest will take care of itself.

There. The end. Sheesh.

[**Updated to clarify: I found the article I linked to above to be a really thoughtful and balanced piece. Please do not think my impatience with authors who disrespect YA was targeted at the author of that article. Not at all. After reading that piece (which I had read when it was new, and came upon again today in some other chain of links on the subject), I felt that the author in question -- Margo Rabb -- did respect and embrace the classification of YA. I included that link because I think it still sums up the *debate* really well. Thanks, Margo! Oh, and this interview she did with Markus Zusak is on topic and quite interesting.]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Somewhere out there . . .

Somewhere out there, this beautiful Rathersting warrior is at school with her tattoos on. How much do I love that? So much!

Meanwhile, our brief spell of perfect springtime weather has ended. The magical blooming continues -- crabapples and dogwoods are starting, and tulips have taken over for the daffodils -- but it's been raining since yesterday evening. You know what that means? Perfect writing day! I love the rain, I really do. The sound, the smell, the velvety dark sky. The green.

Time to set "Freedom" and get to writing!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

SWEET EVIL, or: In Which I Light Superman's Head On Fire

What you see here is Jim's birthday cake (German chocolate), with a handmade Superman candle we bought last year in Mexico. It's a lumpy, awkward, giant, awesome candle, and here it kind of makes the cake look small. Do not be deceived. Both cake and candle are giant. Shortly after this picture was taken, I did the unthinkable.

I lit Superman's head on fire.
You know what that makes me? A super-villain. But don't worry. Superman is fine and back in his place of honor, in a glass-fronted bookcase, with no more damage than a blackened wick. Jim extinguished his head in the nick of time. Jim saved Superman. I do not, however, have a picture of him doing so. You have to imagine it.

Here's us, though:
Had a lovely day yesterday. I was baking most of the day while Jim was mostly working -- he has a deadline looming with Scholastic right now -- and I also had some fun putting up birthday decorations, like these big paper swags that I love and will be leaving up for a while:

I blew up some balloons too, because why not? I honestly can't remember ever decorating for a birthday before, and it was so fun that it makes me really look forward to going all out on kids' birthdays in the future :-)

But what's really important here is this:
The tallest, most beautiful cake I have ever made (and it tasted really good too). And this:
Fruit pizza! I used to make this a lot, and hadn't for years. It's a great thing to bring to a summer potluck when good fruit is abundant. It's easy (slicing the fruit is the most time-consuming part) and delicious.

So. GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE! I love it but had never made it, and was glad when Jim requested it for his birthday cake. I found this recipe online, and then it turned out to be exactly the recipe from the Baker's German Sweet Chocolate box. (The frosting was different though; I used the one on the box and it was perfection.) German chocolate cake is not difficult to make, but there are more steps than most cakes I've made. In this recipe, the eggs are separated (though one recipe commenter online speculated that this might be the reason the cake, though moist, was really crumbly), the whites are beaten to peaks and that takes a little time. Plus there's toasting of coconut and pecans, frosting thickened on the stove, chocolate melting, etc. Just a lot of steps, but nothing complicated or requiring special equipment for "real bakers." And it was so impressive looking, and so very very delicious. A good one for impressing people!

Here it is just frosted:
I was a little hesitant to drizzle chocolate onto it, because I have a history of not being able to melt chocolate correctly, but I attempted it anyway, made a simple little glaze of 2 oz. German sweet chocolate, about 2 tbl of butter and 2 tbl of water (I think, I wasn't really measuring), and then put it in this adorable creamer from Anthropologie that I never imagined would prove functional--
--but which I actually use all the time for watering the small house plants, and now: for drizzling chocolate around the edges of a cake. Voila:
Blue glass cake stand, incidentally, also from Anthropologie. Cake stands make any cake more beautiful. I luff them.

So. Recommended cake! Just beeline to the baking aisle for the Baker's German Sweet Chocolate and go from the recipe on the box.

Next: FRUIT PIZZA = easy, but there are steps. There's frosting to prepare, and a glaze. I monkeyed with the recipe a little, to delicious effect, so here's my version (this makes 2 twelve-inch pizzas):

2 rolls refrigerated sugar cookie dough (Pillsbury, whatever)
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 small jar (7ish oz.) lemon curd (this is my addition, to stretch the frosting further and add some zing)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tsp vanilla

FRUIT, sliced. Cutely sliced. (I used: strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, pineapple, kiwi, banana, and mango.)

for glaze:
1/2 cup gran. sugar; 1 pinch salt; 1 tbsp cornstarch; 1/2 cup orange juice; 2 tbsp lemon juice; 1/4 cup water; 1/2 tsp. orange zest.

1. Crusts: Preheat oven to 350. Spray two twelve-inch pizza pans. Slice the rolls of cookie dough and overlap slices on trays, then press the edges together to create an even crust. (I found this much easier than rolling! Halleluja! And it's easiest if the dough is right out of the refrigerator and not softened.) Pierce all over with fork. Bake 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

2. Frosting: Beat cream cheese, lemon curd, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Spread over cooled crusts:

3. Artfully arrange fruit on top of frosting.

(If you're using banana, dip slices in lemon juice before adding.)

4. Make glaze. In saucepan combine: sugar, salt, cornstarch, OJ, lemon juice, water. Cook and stir over medium heat; bring to a boil, stirring continuously, allow to boil a couple of minutes until it thickens a little. Remove from heat. Add zest. Allow to cool but not to set up. Spoon over fruit. Chill at least 2 hours. Here's the glazed look:
Oh, and you know what? A small linzer cookie cutter makes a great pineapple slice corer:

So, there is some sweet evil for you to try!

Happy birthday to my wonderful husband. In the words of a current favorite song of ours, "You're the chocolate at the end of my cornetto."
(That sounds great live!) I also love this line: "Someone stirred my soul with that great big stick of [his], kind of looks like an oar."

(And if anyone is wondering what a cornetto is, it's a drumstick ice cream cone, you know how they have the little chocolate plug in the bottom so the ice cream doesn't drip out? Isn't that so cute?)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Writing room snaps

I was just cleaning and decluttering (sort of) my writing room, and I got a little snappy. Pictures ensue.

The corner with sometime nap-couch, also, the antique porch pillar from Indonesia that I am in love with:
My desk:
Leroy and the leaning tower of books:
Devil girl guarding the door:
Mosaic table I made; filled with clutter:

Blank journals that have not yet found their raison d'etre, but surely will, some day:

A bit more "creative clutter":
And, close-up clutter! That ceramic says, "Create a life you love." Yes, do that.
Shells, plus a silver pomegranate Jim got me in honor of Blackbringer, and little faerie spoons:
The monkey on the left is about to be devoured:
Another door guardian, from Art & Soul.

I [heart] this room.

Below, hanging where I can see them, are two of the many pieces of art Jim did for Lips Touch that didn't make it into the book:

There was quite a process of deciding on just the right approach to the art for this book, and as a result, there are many incredible images that will never be seen. I'd still like to collect them in a little blurb book some day, perhaps along with the original (very short) versions of the Sunday Scribblings that later became the stories in the book. Plus, such an endeavor would feed my love of designing books, which I indulged for a solid week a year ago when putting together a Shutterfly book of our Chiapas trip.

Oh, look at this sunset from the other day:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Another belly growth-spurt!

Dang, look at this! People, I still have more than three months to go. How big is this thing going to get???

Still feeling GREAT. Knock on wood: no back pain or trouble sleeping or any of the side effects in the books except for some mild shortness of breath when I "exercise" (by which I mean: walk.)

If you live in the Portland/Vancouver area (Vancouver WA, not Canada), I'm speaking at Barnes & Noble there this afternoon for their biannual Educator Appreciation Night. The event if 4:30 to 6; not sure exactly when I'll be speaking. Should be fun! Store info/directions HERE. There might be a couple of ARCs involved!

Oh! And I must show you, my first few Ratherstings!

Aren't they beautiful?!?!

These and more (Jim and I have not yet taken our own Rathersting portraits, but we will) will be added to a "Rathersting gallery" and linked in my sidebar for all eternity. If you want to get in on the act, see the Chocolate & Tattoo bribe OR send $1 (per pair; to cover postage and tattoos) to the P.O. box address in my sidebar -- don't forget to include your address!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Let the nail-biting commence!

Silksinger ARCs are officially out in the world. Yipes! That means that people might be reading them! This is a very strange feeling, when the book has gone entirely out of your hands, has escaped from its cage, as it were, and is no longer under your control. (That makes it sound more like rabid monkeys than advance readers copies! Ha!)

Will people like it? Will they read it? Are they reading it, right now, at this very moment? EEEK!

Two years ago when Blackbringer was at this stage, I was blissfully ignorant of the entire process, didn't know that anyone even had my book until a friend told me, with great excitement, that she'd been having lunch (or cupcakes? or rice pudding?) with BETSY BIRD and that Betsy pulled my book out of her bag! We were in New York at the time for the winter SCBWI conference, and that evening I got to meet Betsy, and also MotherReader, and this was my introduction into the "kidlitosphere" and the beginning of the end of my ignorance of advance readers copies and reviews.

My first review ever was from Betsy, and it was awesome, so I had the lucky experience to fall in love with book reviews and the people who write them. (Like a kid whose first trip to the dentist is non-traumatic.) I'm infinitely grateful to Betsy for putting so much thought and time into her reviews -- and to everyone else who has read and reviewed my book, or who reads and reviews books at all and spreads the word about them. HECK, to anyone who just plain READS BOOKS.

My gratitude and amazement that this even happens has not lessened over two years. I still get all tingly whenever I get an email. I still say to myself, "Another person in the world has read my book." Then I go over to my felt board that has 6.77 billion little felt people cut-outs on it, and I move one of them over from the "hasn't read" to the "read" side. Ha ha!

(6.77 billion people, y'all! Dang! That's a big felt board.)

Anyway, now it is beginning. Google Alerts have been bringing to my attention posts in which bloggers mention having received the ARC (along with the brand new paperback of Blackbringer which I think is an incredibly nice touch on Putnam's part), and I've gotten a few emails that people have received it, but as far as I know, no reviews yet. Ulp. What will be the first one? What will it say? And how about the "big" reviews? School Library Journal? Kirkus? PW? Booklist?

And then, there's Lips Touch. I don't know if any ARCs have been sent out yet, but this doesn't lessen my anxiety. If they haven't yet, they surely will be soon, and if possible I'm even more anxious about this than Silksinger, because Silksinger I sent out to a lot of readers last summer after the 2nd draft, and that's taken the edge off that somewhat, but Lips Touch has been read by . . . less than 5 people. Gulp.

I don't know what reaction to expect. I sold this book two years ago, and over the course of two years you tamp down the excitement because you know it's going to be a long while before the book is a book, and then one day, you wake up and it IS, and the reality finally hits that though it is still yours, it's not YOURS anymore. You can't change it, and you can't protect it, you can only wait and hope that people like it, wondering every few minutes if anyone is actually reading it yet.

It's like a mental screensaver, you know, you do other things, work on other things, but whenever you pause for too long the other stuff goes away, leaving you staring at the screensaver, which is: I wonder if anyone is reading my book yet.

Ha ha! Am I making it sound awful? It isn't awful, but there IS nervous energy, and peril to fingernails.

(I don't actually bite my fingernails, thank god.)

Apropos of nothing, I just happened upon this image, and I have to put it up here even though it doesn't mesh AT ALL with the other images above. Is this not a picture of perfect joy?
Here's to hoping I feel like that after I read my first reviews!!

Cheers :-)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why not just be rich?

Really, how hard could it be? Ha ha.

With my family for Easter, a usual subject came up, which was: why don't we all just go in together and buy a villa in Italy? As if, even all in together, we could afford it. Well, if we all sold our houses here I suppose we could. And why not, really? What's so great about here? It's no Italy, that's for sure. And really, Jim and I can work anywhere, so why live in the States, aside from family? We're always talking about renting an apartment in Rome for 6 months and just going there to live and work, and then somewhere else for 6 months, or 3, or whatever, with travels and adventures mixed in.

But beneath it all is the idea of having a home base here, even if it is just our little yellow house in sore need of landscaping. To travel and come home. Still, it would be great to have a villa in Italy. Maybe one of these:

Ha ha ha. Sure, any day now. Any of those would be an even swap with our little house :-)

Jim and I have played the "where would your villa be?" game (last time we were in Italy, a sorely long time ago) and our answer was: the Amalfi Coast.
In a lemon grove, on a cliff, with a little switchback mule trail down to a tiny beach with kayaks pulled up safe from the tide, and a ruined medieval watch tower on an outcropping.

But then, if we had that, it's where we'd always have to go on holiday. What about Borneo? India? Morocco? Thailand? Scotland? What about the Oregon Coast? (Ha ha.) Actually, in the spirit of doing what is actually possible, Jim and I just rented a little pink house at the Oregon Coast for a week later this spring. The one in the upper-left corner:
I know it's not exactly in competition with those Italian villas, but it's nearby, it's cute, and it's a skip from a wild stretch of beach, with the sky and the sea as the only distractions -- no internet, no restaurants, nothing. We will disappear there and work and cook and walk, and it will be lovely. Yay!

Off the subject, look. Polka dots!
(Isn't "Dot" a cute name by the way? And it sounds --and looks -- good with Di Bartolo: Dot Di Bartolo. I know a Dot, and she's a cool bookseller who wears knee socks. Ah, the name game. Jim and I have two names in prime contention, and I really can't decide between them! So tricky! It's not like naming a character in a story, you know? The consolation is, whatever name does not get used, I can always use in a story.) That little newborn onesie is the only baby clothing item I've bought so far (it's just so teeeeeny!), though Jim did get adorable sock-monkey romper, and my mother has been shopping plenty (for like 13 years while waiting for her slow-to-reproduce progeny to finally give her another grandchild :-) Jim also came home with Glubglub:
Even before we knew the little wiggler was a girl. He was just so taken with this little pink *quadropus*, hand-sewn by friends with vast talent for cuteness.

Quick reminders:

--Latest round of CHOCOLATE BRIBES is outgoing. Keep em coming!

--9 hours left on Lips Touch ARC auction. Auction closes at Apr-20-09 18:00:00 PDT. There are other good items, too, one I will try again to bid on as the closing time creeps nearer. I'm a bad ebay-er; I always forget and lose out in the last minutes. Phoo.

And one announcement & big congratulations: Katie Anderson won first place in the query contest put on by agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, and her pitch sounds awesome. I would SO read that book. I kind of have this thing for supernatural kissing books :-) Love the victory pose, Katie, and can't wait to be posting further congrats, and hopefully soon!!