Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's the little fizzy things that matter

I'm reading a book right now that...I guess it's set in Chicago, though the author never says exactly where the main character lives. And by "set in Chicago," I mean it takes place in the actual city, not the suburbs. This is somewhat important.

At one point in the book, the main character goes on a date, and the author describes a table in the pizzeria where said date takes place as being "sticky with soda."

Soda? What? No way. People from Chicago and Cook County (where I grew up) call that fizzy stuff that comes in cans "pop." Except for my mom. (Hi, Mom!) So I Googled the author and found that she's not from Cook County but Lake County, which according to the very highly scientific Illinois pop-vs-soda survey has a slightly higher incidence of calling that fizzy stuff that comes in cans "soda" than Cook County. Even more, people who live in Cook, Lake, and DuPage County have lower instances of calling it pop than the rest of northern Illinois. But the fact still stands: A narrator from Chicago is much more likely to call it "pop." My family has lived in Chicago and Cook County for generations and the only one of us who ever calls it "soda" is my mom. My friends and I at my Cook County high school? Called it "pop."

More stats on "pop" vs. "soda" vs. "Coke" can be seen here: Generic Names for Soft Drinks.

You'll notice, looking at the map, that all of New Jersey is olive green, meaning that 80-100% of the survey respondents refer to it as "soda." True story: For my very first Teen Advisory Board meeting in New Jersey, I said to the members, "I am happy to get you whatever kind of snacks you want, so if you have food allergies or if you like a certain kind of pop, please let me know."

They all looked at me as though I'd grown a second head and said, "It's SODA."

I never understood why anyone would call it "soda." It's called "pop" because that's what it does! Fight that logic, New Jersey.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A little friendly interview with Siobhan Vivian

It's almost the end of Impromptu Author Interview Month here at Librarilly Blonde, so I'm going out with a bang. Today's interview features the awesome Siobhan Vivian. Her first book, A Little Friendly Advice, has received praise from sites like Teenreads.com and Slayground. Although I'm not yet running a review of her Spring '09 novel, Same Difference (pictured above), do keep an eye out for it. Read on to learn about Siobhan's thoughts on writing, bad boys, and her plans for the future.

Carlie Webber: First, three cheers for a fellow Jersey girl! You're from NJ and now live in NY but your first novel, A Little Friendly Advice, is set in Ohio. What inspired you to set it there?

Siobhan Vivian: Oh Jersey, how I love ye!

It’s funny—during my MFA program, all my novels-in-progress were set in New Jersey. So when I started working on ALFA during my last semester of school, I was in great need of some new scenery.

I ultimately chose Akron, Ohio because I have a few close friends who live there, and I’d spent quite a bit of time visiting them, so I felt I had the lay of the land pretty much down. Also, Akron is a rad town! It has so many cool places—like Square Records and Revival and the weird old movie house—but it’s almost completely unaware of its coolness. Having lived in a few “flashy” cities, I found that lack of pretension refreshing. I also loved the disparity of wealth within the town and, of course, the humungous opulent rubber mansions. They are all old and charming and individual, not like the McMansions you always read about nowadays.

CW: Your second novel, Same Difference, is out in galley now and will be published in the spring of 2009. Tell us what it's about.

SV: Same Difference is the story of a girl named Emily who struggles with having two different identities/personalities—whether she’s in her typical suburban hometown with the best friend she’s grown up with, or having creatively inspiring adventures in Philadelphia with a super cool, wild new girl whom she befriends in a summer art class. Eventually, those two worlds collide, leaving Emily to try and figure out who she really is.

CW: How was writing your second novel different (or the same?) as writing your first?

SV: Same Difference is a very personal story, which made writing the emotional component a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. I also expected to feel confident with my writing this time around, having one published novel under my belt. Umm. Not. That state of mind set me up for a lot of angst and turmoil. Seriously, this book nearly killed me.

CW:You have a background in art. What parts of your art education did you incorporate into Same Difference?

SV: I had attended a pre-college arts program exactly like Emily’s during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, and it changed my life. I drew endlessly on those experiences for Same Difference, including my very first time seeing Duchamp at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After graduating high school, I returned to that university for undergraduate study…and also began to teach within the pre-college program.

CW: Everyone always talks about the appeal of the "bad boy" in YA lit, but your boys tend to be more "good boys." Why do the boys and boyfriends in your novels tend to be more artsy than bad-boy?

SV: Hmmm. This is a great question. I think I write “good boys” because, for me, the romantic component of a YA novel is usually the least interesting. I’m much more fascinated by the dynamics between girls, and the way friendships can evolve and change. Also, in my own experience growing up, I was way more emotional about my friends than I was about boyfriends. It was beat endlessly into my head – boyfriend come and go, but friendships are what really matter. When I’m reading a story about a “bad boy”, I tend to lose patience and sympathy for the main character. I keep my boys nice and artsy, so they can add fuel to the self-discovering journey of my main characters, but not steal the show from what I think are more high stakes situations and relationships.

CW: All authors who get interviewed in this blog must answer this question: What's one book, written by someone else, that you wish you had written?

SV: Easy. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, by E. Lockhart.

CW:What's one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you started your writing career?

SV: That writing doesn’t get easier. In fact, it shouldn’t get easier, if you’re really pushing yourself.

CW: What are you working on now, and what are your writing plans for the more distant future?

SV: I’m working on a new YA called Past Perfect. It’s about a girl’s evolving relationship with the brother she’s always idolized, discovering your sexuality, and being okay with your flaws.

As for the future, I’d like to continue writing YA novels, and hopefully carve out a nice and loyal audience for myself, so that the Powers That Be will continue to publish me. I’m also kicking around a few film and television ideas that I hope to spend some time developing. Basically, these last two years of being a full-time writer have been the most satisfying and creatively stimulating of my life. I want more more more.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tales of a Fourth Grade You

Today's Entertainment Weekly Popwatch blog asks readers to share your formative Judy Blume experiences.

The first Judy Blume book I ever read was Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and then I think it was Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. after that. I might not have understood every word of the books, but I do know that Margaret helped me be fearless about bras and periods and all that other fun girl stuff, and Peter Hatcher, just like me, was the more conservative, fact-oriented older sibling of, um, a free spirit. Really, where would YA lit be today without Judy Blume?

In the Guardian: How to Write

Even though I have no interesting in writing a novel of my own, I love to read writers' boards and publishing blogs. I guess it's the same thing in my head that makes me love Project Runway even though I can't thread a needle. I like seeing what goes into works of art, and how industry trends shape. Today's Guardian has an essay series everyone who loves children's an YA books will want to read, titled How to Write.

Child's play: Writing for children means thinking about your own past, while staying in touch with young people now by Michael Rosen

Genre in Children's Writing
by Linda Newbery and Meg Rosoff

Characters and Viewpoint by Linda Newbery, Michael Lawrence and Lauren Child

There are many more essays in the series. My favorite essay of the bunch is David Fickling's (he's the man behind books like Before I Die and A Swift Pure Cry): What next? Don't want to end up on publishers' slush piles? Read out loud before you get read. It begins:

Not everyone can sing. Not everyone can write. Even fewer people can sing professionally. Even fewer can write professionally. Do not be like those poor deluded souls who audition for the X Factor and clearly can't sing for toffee. There are far too many hopelessly written typescripts sloshing about on publisher's slush piles. They clog up the system and are a waste of everybody's time, particularly if you are a good writer yourself. There is a mistaken view that writing for children is easy. It isn't. There is another view that children's books today are of generally poor quality. They aren't.

Someday I want to meet this man just so I can shake his hand. The truth is, not everyone can do everything no matter how badly they want to. We all have talents, and we all have things that we will never do well no matter how much we practice or how good we think we are. For some people, that thing they will never do well is writing. But I'll let you decide on the rest of it for yourself.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Clique is not Anne of Green Gables. Also, water is wet.

Today, ABC News has an article about Lisi Harrison's Clique series that's not fantastic, but it's not bad, either: The Clique: Chick Lit for Teens and Tweens.

At least this one gets the "o hai there iz books for teens published after 1945" out of the way early, in the first section, titled "Not your mom's childhood books." It reads:

Status means everything in the books. And the mean girls rule.

"Anne of Green Gables" this ain't.

No, really?

I confess, I am a bad YA librarian. I have read exactly one of the Anne of Green Gables books and that is all I plan to read. Why? I don't find them interesting. I read it when I was that "perfect" age to read them and I found Anne's life dull. I couldn't relate to her. I'm a city kid and I couldn't picture anything idyllic about life on a Canadian farm. My lack of reading Anne aside, though, this is another case. Here, the authors are trying to compare two completely dissimilar books and make them seem similar because 1) they don't know anything about YA literature other than Anne and The Triumvirate That Must Not Be Named or 2) they think all books about teen girls must have similar themes or 3) they want to get a book in there that their target adult audience will have heard of and has possibly read or 4) all or some of the above or 5) none of the above (but I wouldn't bet on it).

I think the authors of the article are missing something major. Yes, status is important in the Clique series and the mean girls rule, but this is hardly the first appearance of the mean-girl-rule in YA literature. Blubber, anyone? How about Daphne's Book? Although they get media attention now, mean girls have been around in YA literature for decades, giving their classmates hell. I think what the big deal is surrounding the Clique books, though, besides the fact that we now have the technology to make millions of books in a print run if we want to and can therefore reach a much larger audience, is the fact that the Clique books are some of the first to make the mean girls seem almost sympathetic. In their ostentatious behavior, Massie, Dylan and Alicia really show that money can't buy happiness. When the girls go to battle, in the end it comes down to their wits, not their wallets. If we think back over teen books that feature a mean girl, I would say that a good majority of them (just my educated guess, no statistics here) paint the mean girls as someone who is entirely unsympathetic, perhaps in the author's attempt to make us root for the main character.

The attempted humanizing of a mean girl was one of the big failing points, I felt with Marcella Pixley's Freak, a book that really gets what bullying is about...until the last ten pages. During the last ten pages, the main character, Miriam, sees that the mean girl might be treating her badly because of problems at home. I think this is supposed to make us feel better about Miriam's treating her nemesis with kindness, but to me it felt very manipulated, an attempt to make us understand why the mean girl was mean and show how good and virtuous the fairly unlikeable Miriam was. It's not that I don't think a mean girl could have dimension, but the last ten pages is not the place to put it in. In opposition to this, Harrison shows us from the get-go that the mean girls at the center of the Clique series have both hearts and insecurities. Beyond the drama, I think that is what makes the Clique novels fun to read.

The rest of the article is actually fairly uplifting, interviewing Lisi Harrison and describing times when she's visited groups of girls and talked to them about how life is a lot more than just labels. I do have to say hooray for that. It's just that there's so much depth in the genre that the mainstream media doesn't get, depth they could get if they would actually hire someone to write who did research into YA lit besides The Triumvirate That Must Not Be Named. One would think that if teens are the leaders of tomorrow that the media says they are, someone would acknowledge that their books go beyond labels and romance.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

GONE with the wunderkind

September seems to be Teen Dystopia Review Month over here. The dystopia du jour is Gone by Michael Grant, a brick of a book that has fans already clamoring for its sequel.

Yes, that is the UK cover in this entry. I'm using it because, well, I like it better than the US cover. The UK cover looks like an ad for a cool SF TV show, doesn't it? I hope when this book goes into paperback that Harper considers using the UK cover.

How it begins: It's a normal day for fourteen-year-old Sam Temple and his friends until everyone over the age of fourteen disappears in an instant. There's no warning, no time to stop what they're doing. The only people left in Sam's town of Perdido Beach are those age fourteen and under. Sam and his friends Quinn, Edilio, and Astrid quickly discover a barrier around Perdido Beach, termed the Fallout Area Youth Zone (FAYZ). No one can get in or out, regardless of age. Food and medical supplies begin to diminish, and bullies with baseball bats menace the weaker, smaller kids. Not long after all the adults disappear, a group of students from Coates Academy, the private school for troublemakers, ride into town and declare their rule. Their leader, Caine, seems like a reasonable sort on the surface but Sam and Astrid know better than to trust him. Caine, like Sam, exhibits supernatural powers. Unlike Sam, Caine is manipulative and cruel, using his power to make certain that no one upsets his self-declared status as community ruler. Caine also claims that Sam is his twin brother, that they were separated at birth and they both possess an unusual amount of the magical power. It's looking like the battle for control of Perdido Beach will be brother vs. brother. That is, until Sam learns that all of them may be facing an evil force greater than all the superpowered kids in Perdido Beach put together. And he has two weeks to figure everything out, because that's how long it is until his fifteenth birthday.

My thoughts: This book is not perfect, but it's still worth talking about. I will say that the setup and the pacing are absolutely spectacular. I read and read and the next thing I knew, I was three hundred pages in. It takes talent to make a reader not notice 300 pages have passed. The setting is clear and somehow the author manages to avoid making the reader feel claustrophobic despite the fact that the whole book takes place in what, ten square miles? Where the book fell flat was on the characterization. I understand that the first book needs to set up for book 2 and there are tons of characters to balance and not everyone is going to get great development. I know that the setup of who's good versus who's bad is the big concern. But there are two characters that drive me absolutely damn crazy. First, Caine. Caine's dialogue is often clunky and gets a little Evil Overlord in places. The way he calls Sam "brother" totally reminds me of Lore in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Second, Astrid. I haven't seen a Mary-Sue this epic since Bella Swan. I'm all for smart girls, believe me, but smart girls who know everything, who are light years ahead of all their peers emotionally, who are basically saints when it comes to their autistic four-year-old brothers, who always come up with the right plan at the right time, are not much fun to read about. I'm also not a fan of one of the big sekrit plot twists involving the cause of all the adults disappearing; it was really trite and didactic. The many religious parallels were interesting to read, I guess, but I'm not sure what to make of them just yet, or even if I'm seeing parallels where there aren't any?

Despite these flaws, I think this book has huge appeal. 17-year-olds could enjoy it and 13-year-olds could enjoy it. There's mystery, adventure, fantasy, horror, and a little bit of romance. I love the quick degeneration of Sam's town, especially because so many adults are quick to label children as adorable precious angels capable of doing no wrong. Yes, some characters make an effort to do the right thing, but Caine and his followers are unashamedly hungry for power. The lines between the side of light and side of dark are not as clear as they could be. (This is a good thing!) Not all the kids with supernatural powers are on one side or the other. It's kind of a remarkable look at the instinct for self-preservation and how the amoral quickly rise to being the scariest people around.

HarperCollins Children's Books page || at The Book Muncher || at YA New York || Michael Grant's blog

Justine Larbalestier has an interview fairy!

It's author interview season here at Librarilly Blonde. Today's interview is with Justine Larbelestier, who took some very precious time during her How to Ditch Your Fairy tour and kindly answered questions for me. Justine, thanks for your answers! May your tour be fun and your book go into many printings.

Carlie Webber, who has a people-ask-her-for-directions fairy: Where did you get the idea that lots of people have personal fairies?

Justine Larbalestier: It came from spending a holiday with a friend who has a parking fairy. I began to wonder what it would be like to have such a fairy if you hated cars (which I do) then Charlie and the world kind of grew from there.

CW: What's your fairy? If you don't have one, which one would you wish for?

JL: I'm not sure I have one. But there are many many fairies I'd love to have. I've been on tour for the book recently and I could totally use a can-talk-while-signing-books fairy.

CW: The world Charlie lives in seems to be a mashup of different cultures from around the world. How did you create it? Is there any one culture you drew from the most?

JL: I'm poking a lot of fun at Australia in it. Especially Sydney. And also at the USian celebrity fixation. But really the world just grew up around Charlie and her parking fairy. The end result is its own place.

CW: What part of the book was the most fun for you to write?

JL: All of it. I've never had as much fun writing a book as I had writing HTDYF. Probably because I wasn't under contract. HTDYF was my fun book that I wrote for myself in between other books.

CW: The names in How to Ditch Your Fairy are so cool. How did you come up with them?

JL: Many of the names come from teenagers I signed books for while doing appearances for my earlier books. I also took the surnames of many of my favourite sportspeople.

CW: Describe a typical day in the life of Justine.

JL: Gym. Breakfast. Procrastination. Lunch. More procrastination. Panicked commencement of work. Dinner. Procrastination. Bed.

CW: What's one book, written by someone else, that you wish you had written?

JL: I've never wished to write someone else's book. I only want to write my own.

CW: If you weren't a writer, what career would you like to have?

CW: There's no other career I'd like to have.

Everyone, if you haven't already read HTDYF, go out and read it right now. And coming soon to a blog near you, an interview with Siobhan Vivian!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How not to be a helpful YA librarian

On YALSA-BK, someone just asked for ideas for doing an Adventures of Tom Sawyer program for the Big Read in 2010. A reasonable request, right?

It's a sign that I've had too little sleep and not enough chocolate when my first answer is, "Make them whitewash the fence outside the library."

Of course, I shouldn't judge, because what you say about his company is what you say about society. (Catch the drift?)

I'm slowly making my way through Gone by Michael Grant and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Michael Morpurgo, both of which are fantastic. I do love a good dystopia. Reviews to come soon!

Monday, September 22, 2008

And when you're gone we want you all to know we'll Carrie on

Headline: Harper Collins Publishers signs Candace Bushnell for "The Carrie Diaries." The article cites that Carrie Bradshaw in high school was not the stylish, confident Carrie of "Sex and the City."

THIS interests me, because Carrie sounds a little like me. Obviously I'm not a writer with a taste for Blahniks, but people look at me now and assume I was popular and outgoing in high school. Outgoing yes. I'm extraverted, it's just a natural thing. But popular? No, not really. I had friends and boyfriends but I didn't really party. I am funny and a little sarcastic now, but in high school I just said dumb things most of the time. Also, women in my family are genetically blessed in the way that we get more attractive as we get older. My mother at 56 is most often described as "striking." I didn't really fit into my face until I was 27 or so, and now I can finally work it. Style? I had it in high school. and I have it now, but the two are different things. Winding back to the original topic, I am VERY interested in seeing these books. As an adult I'm fifty percent Miranda and fifty percent Charlotte, but I wonder if I'd have been a percentage Carrie back in high school.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jenny Green's killer book

Monday, September 15, 2008

In which Michael Thomas Ford answers some burning questions

Michael Thomas Ford writes adult-oriented short stories and that's it, right? Suicide Notes was his first YA novel, right?

That's what I thought for years. Turns out I was really incredibly wrong. Then, via the wonder of email, I found out that Mike is not only a prolific writer of books for children, young adults, and adults, he is funny, quick to answer emails, and a devoted watcher of sci-fi television. How could I resist asking for an interview? Read on and learn the fascinating life stories behind the most famous author you've only just heard of.

Carlie Webber: A lot of people believe that this is your first YA novel, but it isn't. Can you talk a little bit about your background in writing children's and YA books?

Michael Thomas Ford: There's a great scene in Norton Juster's THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH where Milo, after rescuing the princesses Rhyme and Reason and restoring peace to the feuding kingdoms, is told by King Azaz that he has been withholding a secret from Milo, which is that the task Milo has just accomplished was impossible. Milo, astonished, asks the king why he hadn't warned him, to which the king replies, "So many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible." That pretty much sums up how I managed to forge a writing career.

My final semester in college a class I was signed up for was canceled and the department decided to offer a class on writing for children instead. The instructor was Isabelle Holland, who is best known for the novel THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE. Because I was the only one with a car I was drafted to pick Isabelle up every week at her apartment in New York (the college was in Westchester) and then drive her home again after class. We got to be quite good friends during these drives.

As the semester neared its close Isabelle asked me what I intended to do with my life. I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I had applied to Episcopal Divinity School and to the graduate school at Duke University, but wasn't really thrilled about the idea of being either a seminarian or an English professor. Isabelle suggested the publishing industry, about which I knew nothing. She called a friend of hers at Macmillan Publishing (the late Elizabeth Cater, who at that time was the director of educational publishing at Macmillan Book Clubs), who passed along my name to someone in the children's department. It just happened that a new editor (Frank Sloan, who I believe is now editor-in-chief of Rourke Publishing) had recently started and needed an assistant. He called me in and hired me because -- he told me later -- I wore Hush Puppy shoes and corduroy pants to the interview and he thought that was sort of sweet and tragic. It was all very Ugly Betty.

So I went to work at an imprint of Macmillan Children's Books. We specialized in nonfiction books for the school and library market. Because there were only the two of us working on these books I got to do a lot more than an editorial assistant normally does. Within a year I was editing books, and shortly after than we acquired another imprint and launched a third. I was editing a ton of books and more or less having fun, but I knew I wanted to do something else. It was great to work on other people's books, but I wanted to write my own. I just didn't know what I wanted to write about.

Then one night I turned on the news and Magic Johnson was announcing that he was HIV-positive. The next morning I went in and told Frank that we needed to do a book on HIV/AIDS for young people. Long story short -- I ended up writing it. That book was 100 QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT AIDS. It was enormously successful. But it wasn't until a couple of years later -- after our imprints were acquired by another company and I chose not to go with them -- that I had to decide whether or not writing was something I could do full time. Against all logic, I decided I could.

Because 100 QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT AIDS had been so well-received I did more books in that vein. An imprint of Morrow had optioned the paperback rights to the first book, and I did a follow up with them called THE VOICES OF AIDS, which was a collection of interviews with people whose lives had been affected by HIV. I then did a similar book of interviews with gay and lesbian people called OUTSPOKEN, which was a companion book of sorts to a book I'd done with The New Press a few years before called THE WORLD OUT THERE: BECOMING PART OF THE LESBIAN AND GAY COMMUNITY.

At that point I was the "social issues guy." The books won a bunch of awards and got on a bunch of best-of lists, and that's what editors wanted me to keep doing. But I wanted to try something else, and so I convinced an editor friend at Avon to give me a shot at writing middle grade fiction. She assigned me two books in the SPINETINGLERS series (published under the series author name of M.T. Coffin), which was one of the eighteen million horror series that were around at that time. I had a blast doing those, but the series ended and then my editor friend left the company. I was trying to decide what to do next when another editor at Avon called. She was new, and she had just been assigned the job of creating a series of books based on a
television show called EERIE, INDIANA, which had run for one season a few years before and which was about to be re-launched by Avon's parent company. The editor had never heard of the show, let alone seen it, and she was looking for writers for the series.

As it happened, EERIE had been one of my favorite shows. I think more out of relief than any trust in my writing abilities, the editor assigned me the first book in the series. I ended up writing nine of the seventeen books in the series (as Mike Ford), and that was enormously fun. Those are still some of my favorites of my books, and I was sad when the re-launched television series bombed and the book series was canceled along with it.

By then I had started writing the first of what would become the TRIALS OF MY QUEER LIFE series of essay collections for adults. Ironically, as I was becoming well-known as a gay writer I published for young adults a book called PATHS OF FAITH, which was a collection of interviews with leaders from various religious traditions. There was a little bit of the "is that the same guy who wrote THAT'S MR FAGGOT TO YOU?" thing with that book, and although the book was named to many best-of lists by YA review sources it sold poorly. Of course I can't be certain that my adult writing had anything to with that, but it made me a little wary.

After the EERIE books ended I pitched my editor a series of books about girls studying Wicca. At the time she said that they absolutely could not do a series like that because the topic was too controversial. So I put the idea away and concentrated on my books for adults, which had become very popular. Then, just as I was again wondering what I was going to do next, the phone rang and it was an editor at HarperCollins (which had recently acquired Avon) asking if I had any ideas for a series about girls who were witches. The result
of that phone call was CIRCLE OF THREE, a series I wrote under the name Isobel Bird (in honor of Isabelle Holland) about three girls drawn together by their interest in Wicca. It was a wonderful experience, but also exhausting. I wrote 15 books in the period of about 18 months, which didn't give me much time to actually enjoy writing them.

After COT I started to concentrate mostly on my books for adult readers, and I didn't write anything for young readers until 2007, when I did a fun middle grade romance novel (PUPPY LOVE, written as Jenny Collins) as a break between two heavy adult books. And now SUICIDE NOTES is coming out, which will be the first YA with my real name on it. I'm really excited to be getting back to YA books, as the impact they can have on people's lives is really extraordinary.

One interesting thing to note is that when I first started writing for young adults I had an editor (a lesbian, by the way) tell me that she could never publish fiction with my real name on it because people would be put off by the fact that I was openly gay. I assumed that as my gay-themed writing for adult audiences became more popular I was making it even more impossible for me to publish YA fiction under my real name. When I was asked to do SUICIDE NOTES I actually offered to do it under a pseudonym. To my delight they insisted that
I use my name precisely because of my popularity with adult readers. It's amazing how things have changed in the last 15 years.

CW: What inspired you to write SUICIDE NOTES?

MTF: Abby McAden, my editor on the CIRCLE OF THREE SERIES, wanted me to do
a stand-alone novel that featured some of the humor of my books for adults. Eight or nine years earlier I had briefly worked on a novel idea about a boy who wakes up in a psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt. It was written in the form of letters between the boy and his best friend, who is a girl. I asked another writer friend to work on it with me, and for about a year we actually exchanged letters as the characters. But then we both moved on to other projects and I put the idea away. Abby (who, by the way, is the editor who signed Meg
Cabot for THE PRINCESS DIARIES and who is a total genius) wanted me to do something gay-themed, and I immediately thought of this project. I jettisoned everything except the first couple of paragraphs and started over, and that's what became SUICIDE NOTES.

CW: More and more, GLBTQ YA novels are upbeat. Where gay characters used to be killed offstage in car accidents, now we're seeing many books where gay characters live the same lives as straight
characters. Being gay and denying his sexuality, however, is what drives Jeff to a suicide attempt. Why did you decide to go with this darker theme?

MTF: That was something I thought about for quite a while before I committed myself to the book. As you say, in almost all of the early books with gay characters something bad happens to the gay character. I remember reading John Donovan's I'LL GET THERE. IT BETTER BE WORTH THE TRIP, which I believe is the first gay-themed novel written for young adults. The gay character suffers in several different ways, and then when he finally realizes he's gay his dog is killed by a car. That was pretty typical of those early novels. It was almost as if the characters were being punished for being gay.

I think more recent gay-themed novels have been upbeat and light precisely because those early novels were so gloomy. This is a natural response, particularly as we want to portray gay people -- and being gay -- in a positive light. Also, a lot of these books are being written by younger authors, who may have read those early books and who want to write things that are more positive because they never had books like that when they were looking for them.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and it does reflect changes in society. But gay people have all kinds of stories and they all need to be told. I remember when M.E. Kerr published DELIVER US FROM EVIE there was a lot of grumbling about the fact that Evie is not a very nice -- or likable -- character. Some people thought Kerr should have written a more "gay positive" book. But to me Evie was a realistic character who was struggling with a lot of the issues that gay young people struggle with. When it comes down to it people like to read books in which their own lives are reflected in some way, either because they want to not feel alone or because they want the validation that who they are is worth writing a story about.

I did worry that having Jeff (the main character of Suicide Notes) attempt suicide because of his realization that he's gay would result in negative response to the book. But the fact is that a significant number of gay teens do commit or attempt to commit suicide. Discovering that your sexuality differs from what people expect of you (or from what you expect of yourself) is still a big deal. Although things have improved dramatically, what with gay groups in high school and a generally increased level of understanding and acceptance of gay people in society, for many young people it's still a very difficult thing to accept about themselves. This is especially true for people who don't live in places like New York or San Francisco or any other place where gay people are much more a part of everyday life than they are in other parts of the country.

Interestingly, one of the first reviews of SUICIDE NOTES appeared on a website where teens review books for other teens. The girl who wrote the review liked the book, but she said that she found the reason for Jeff's suicide attempt to be a little unbelievable. Basically, she didn't think anybody would be so upset about being gay that he would try to kill himself. When I read that my first thought was that the generation gap had finally caught up with me and that my book was 10 years too late. But then a friend pointed out that 1. the
girl (as far as we know) isn't gay herself and 2. she most likely lives in a more cosmopolitan part of the country. While I suspect that some readers will share her opinion, I think many more will recognize themselves in Jeff and realize that they aren't alone in their feelings.

Also, I think that a lot of Jeff's anxiety is caused by how he comes to realize that he's gay and how it has affected the most important relationship in his life. The novel is really about how you figure out who you are and how you learn to accept differences. The fact that Jeff's particular difference is that he's gay is just a way to address that idea.

CW: What kind of research did you do when you were writing SUICIDE NOTES? Did you interview gay teens? Visit treatment facilities? Talk to child psychologists?

MTF: I didn't have to do much research because I basically am Jeff, or at least he's a combination of several things that happened to me. I spent my adolescent and teen years in a very small town, and from an
early age was singled out by my classmates as being different. Suffice it to say that from fifth grade (when we moved to that town) on my life was pretty miserable. I was never physically attacked, mostly because I had very protective cousins, but I was harassed on a daily basis. I almost never left my bedroom, and I was severely depressed, to the point that after my junior year I told my parents I wouldn't go back to high school. Fortunately, I was able to go to college early and managed to get out of that town.

It was in college that I finally came to terms with the fact that I was gay. The difficult part was that I realized it because I fell in love with the best friend of a girl I was going out with. He was straight, which of course made it worse for me. I made myself miserable over him. Then one day I was sitting with this guy on one
side and my girlfriend on the other and somehow the topic of being gay came up. My girlfriend jokingly said to her friend, "I don't think you'd be very good at being gay." Then she turned to me and said, "But it wouldn't surprise me."

We broke up not long after that, but a few months later the male friend of one of my close female friends came to visit her at school. He stayed with me, and one night he revealed to me that he was gay. It was the first time he'd told anyone. He then told our mutual friend, who it turned out had a massive crush on this guy. She somehow decided that I was to blame for his being gay, and she stopped speaking to me. In many ways it's the same thing Jeff in SUICIDE NOTES goes through with his friend Allie.

Now, I never attempted suicide. But I thought about it quite a bit. I think the main thing that stopped me from actually doing it was that I didn't want the people who thought I was a freak to think they'd won or that they were right. But I understand how someone could be driven to that point, so writing Jeff's character came easily. For the more technical aspects, like what it's physically like inside a psych ward and what a daily schedule in there might be, I was helped by a friend who actually did spend some time in such a program. But really the book is about the relationships between the characters, and those were all things I have experienced firsthand.

CW: Do you have plans for another standalone YA novel in the future?

MTF: I'm currently working on a new novel. It's very different from SUICIDE NOTES in that it's set in the future and it involves zombies and a street drug made from their blood. Really it's about discovering that something you've romanticized (in this case war) is not at all what you thought it was. It's also about discovering that humanity exists in people even when you can't see it easily, which I guess is sort of a continuation of one of the themes in SUICIDE NOTES. I'm really enjoying working on this book, and I think it will be something different in the YA world.

CW: All authors I interview get asked this question: What's one book, written by someone else, that you wish you had written?

MTF: For children's books it would be anything by Tove Jansson, who when I was a kid was the author who made me want to write my own books and who became a friend later in life. My personal favorite of hers is MOOMINVALLEY IN NOVEMBER. For adult books it's Mark Helprin's WINTER'S TALE, which is the most beautifully-written book I've ever read.

CW: And now for the fun question! Fill in the blanks in this sentence: I have a scar on my _____ from the time I ____.

MTF: I have a scar on the bottom of my right foot from the time I stepped on the broken-off neck of a glass Coca-Cola bottle. My family was living in Africa at the time, so I must have been four or five. I remember being taken to the hospital and being held down while a doctor stitched me up. Afterward my mother gave me a Snoopy board game so I would have something to do while I couldn't walk.

Review: The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

fallout shelter? It was a serendipitous, if rather scary, moment, because I was on my couch reading S.A. Bodeen's The Compound at the time. I suppose that's what I get for not bothering to change the channel after Project Runway.

The plot: For six years, Eli Yanakakis has lived three stories underground in a lavish fallout shelter. On his ninth birthday, his father ushered his family away from what he said was a nuclear attack and into The Compound. The door to the compound is sealed and set to open in fifteen years, enough time for the nuclear waste from the attack to become harmless. The only people Eli has seen or communicated with for years are his mother, father, and two sisters. He desperately misses hamburgers, his twin brother, Eddy, his grandmother, and his dog. Though The Compound seems stocked with everything he could ever want, Eli knows there are many faults in his father's plan for survival. Their food supply is not what it should be. He catches his father lying about the ability to connect to the Internet. As the book goes on, Eli learns that his father's ultimate plan for a food source, what they call The Supplements, is not the result of poor planning but of his father's near-insanity. Eli knows he has to get out, but only his father knows the secret code to opening the door.

Why you'll love it: When I first picked up this book, I thought it was a dystopian novel. Dystopias in YA are really hot right now and I do love me some imperfect future worlds, but I thought the horror/psychological thriller factor went way up when I realized it wasn't a dystopian novel. Is the book perfect? No. There are some holes in the plot and characterization, but Eli's world is so absorbing, his character so interesting, that the reader doesn't care so much. Eli goes from having a life that every teen would envy to one that no one would want. It reminded me of Flowers in the Attic in many ways: A teen living in a golden cage, a parent's warped idea of safety, a question of gratitude, adapting to survive, protecting one's family, etc. In the span of this book, Eli changes more, grows more, than he has in the past six years. In order to escape, Eli has to put aside all the tactics he's adopted just to get through his daily life. He also has to face up to the question of how far he would go just to ensure his own survival. It's a hold-your-breath book, definitely one that fans of The Hunger Games would enjoy.

Enter The Compound || S.A. Bodeen || review at Charlotte's Library ||

Monday, September 8, 2008

America's Next Top Book Model

I may have failed in the effort to get Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki to pose for a READ poster, but the way I see it, my cat Henry is cuter anyway. Proof:

Henry is very literary. He also posed for a READ poster with The Book Thief, which he loved.

Once Henry is done hiding his red sparkly ball under the couch, he says he'd like to pose with Toys Go Out. He feels a great kinship with Lumphy.

To make your own Read mini-poster, visit ALA Products and Publications.

World wide Suicide Notes

I'm cramming in the last of the 2008 "Books to Watch Out For" before I have to go silent in 2009, so here's a link: Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford. Read it. You'll like it.

O mother, where art thou?

Quick, tell me what Harry Potter, Cinderella (we'll go with the Disney version here, just for clarification's sake), Blair Waldorf, Steve York, Darren Shan, Gemma Doyle, Snow White, and Bobby Pendragon all have in common.

If you said, "Dead, otherwise absent, or antagonistic parents," you get a cookie. Baked by someone other than me, of course.

It seems to me that for years, the role of the parent in a YA novel was to get the heck out of the way. Many parents were, and still are, killed offstage before the opening of the novel, be it by car accident or disease or whatever the author's other favorite method is. I think my favorite parent offing is from Lauren Baratz-Logsted's Secrets of My Suburban Life, in which the main character's mother is killed by a falling pallet of Harry Potter books. Still larger numbers of teens live with single parents and never knew their mother or father, or their parents are divorced. The way a parent disappears in a YA novel isn't really the point here. The point is, they're gone. If the parents are still married, often one or both of them would have an antagonistic relationship with the main character. This could range from a simple existing on two very different planes to one or more abusive parents. In the end, that point remains as well: The parents are somehow emotionally and/or physically separated from the main character. This is a common and even important plot device in YA lit; getting the parents out of the way means that teens are more free to develop as people and have adventures of their own, adventures that they guide, and must face the consequences of their actions without a parent to protect them.

What I'm noticing more and more is a shift from the dead/missing/antagonist parents to teens who maintain a much closer relationship to their parents, and parents who play a major role in the story. Even if one of the parents is dead or missing, the teen will maintain close ties to the remaining parent and have a positive relationship with him/her, or whose improving relationship is a focus of the book. Some examples:

Impossible by Nancy Werlin
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
Life as we Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

There also seem to be many more books of late where it is the actions of a parent rather than the main character or a peer that set the book in motion. Some examples:

Madapple by Christina Meldrum
Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine
The Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon
Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb
How it Happened in Peach Hill by Marthe Jocelyn

Some books focus on a child's/teen's relationship with another significant adult and adults in the story outnumber the main character's peers, like in The Canning Season by Polly Horvath, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer, or The Day My Mother Left by James Prosek.

The other place I'm seeing this parent-focus phenomenon? Television. Gossip Girl and 90210 both give the parents of the teen main characters their own romances and storylines. I'm not saying that parents don't have lives, of course, because that would be ridiculous, but I find it a little unusual in shows that the network is marketing so heavily to teens. In the previous 90210 incarnation, we almost never saw Jim and Cindy Walsh. When I read YA as a teen I always wondered where the parents were, because my parents would never have let me get away with half the adventures those characters had. In all of this I have to wonder: Where is this trend coming from. Maybe it's a reflection of Gen Y's better relationships with their parents? I mean, I don't know about the rest of you, but my Gen X self had exactly one friend in high school who considered her mom her friend, and we all thought she was weird. My Gen Y patrons, however, seem to be much closer to their parents and their parents exercise much tighter control over their lives. It would make sense, then, to reflect this in their literature, but does this mark the beginning of a fundamental change in how teens come of age in YA lit?

Even though Gen Y has better relationships with their parents than previous generations, I don't see the dead/missing/antagonist parent plot device disappearing any time soon. It's still the quickest, easiest way for teens to establish and maintain independence. What I do see is a change in how a teen's story develops, because parents are such a strong influence, for good or bad, in teens' lives. It'll be interesting to see where this trend goes.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Happy 20th Birthday, ...And Justice for All

The setting: Southern California, 2001.

The characters: Your heroine, Carlie, and her coworker, Jane.

The scene: Two librarians are in a car driving from central Orange County to Glendale for a workshop, with Jane at the wheel because your heroine hates to drive. Takes an hour or so, depending on the traffic.

Jane: (hands Carlie a case of CDs) Here, you can pick anything you want to listen to out of these, or we can put the radio on. What kind of music do you like, anyway?

Carlie: Mostly classic rock and hard rock. You know, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Yes, Nirvana, the Stones, Metallica, AC/DC, the Chili Peppers...

(incredulous) YOU? And your blonde hair? Listen to classic rock? You are the last person I would have ever expected to listen to classic rock.

(incredulous at Jane's incredulity) Of course I listen to classic rock. What else would I listen to?

It's true. I might be blonde and love my sweaters but look through my CD collection and you'll find many bands that haven't made music since 1994. When I was in junior high I stayed up late on Saturday nights, glued to MTV, watching the Headbangers Ball and singing along (much to my father's dismay). My sister occasionally watched with me and lit a torch for Alice Cooper that she still carries to this day. It was through Headbanger's Ball that I discovered bands like the Scorpions and as I continued my percussion studies my teachers and fellow musicians introduced me to Dream Theater, Led Zeppelin, and more. Back to the original topic, Headbanger's Ball was I first heard my all-time favorite Metallica song, "One," from their September 6, 1988 multiplatinum release ...And Justice for All.

...And Justice for All is still considered one of Metallica's best, if not their most ambitious, albums. It was the last album they made with bassist Cliff Burton before he was killed in a bus accident, and the first album from which they made a video. "One" is based on Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun and the video is spliced with scenes and dialogue from the movie of the same name. In my rock obsession, I even supplied my tenth-grade history teacher with a tape of "One" as part of an assignment on WWI. (I think I got an A on the project, too.) My fascination with "One" led to my buying and listening to more Metallica through my high school years. In fact, I remember dating a fellow Metallica fan and spending a date watching the live footage in their box set. I fell out of love for them for a while around the time of the release of St. Anger in 2003, but when I started watching Supernatural I went back to them. I'm rediscovering the virtues of blasting "Enter Sandman" during my evening commute and I just bought tickets to see them in February at the Prudential Center. I've ordered their September 12 release, Death Magnetic, and am looking forward to it. The songs they've released, "The Day That Never Comes" and "Cyanide" are pretty good. Or at least I think so.

In celebration of this anniversary, the front page of YouTube today is all Metallica-related. Featured videos include a string quartet playing Nothing Else Matters and Whiplash as performed by Legos. Check it out.

Metallica never made a video for my second-favorite song of theirs, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" from their 1986 release Master of Puppets, but as my contribution to the YouTube celebration, here's a video made by user Leadheadclone, which mixes evocative still images with shots of Metallica playing live.

Honestly, I think if the guys in Metallica ever see this entry they'll be completely mortified. Librarians who drive little Japanese cars and shop at J. Crew are not supposed to be Metallica fans. I won't tell if you don't, though.

Links to read:

Metallica: Still Heavy After All These Years
Mozart and Metallica fans kindred spirts: research (personally, I'm outgoing, but I don't like Mozart, either)
Review of Death Magnetic

Friday, September 5, 2008

Register now for the NYPL Book Fest

If you live in or around New York, you should definitely consider registering for Book Fest 2008, co-sponsored by the New York Public Library and School Library Journal. It's set for November 1, 2008, at the Celeste Bartos Forum in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue It's a day of presentations and discussions all about children's and YA literature. Authors will appear! This year, they include Brian Jacques, Walter Dean Myers, Ibitsam Barakat, and Jeanette Winter.

I have to admit, I have a special interest in the Book Fest this year because I have the extreme honor of serving as one of eleven book discussion group leaders. Everyone who registers for the Book Fest chooses a discussion group and for an hour, everyone at the fest breaks up into small groups to discuss a collection of books along a theme. My theme is "Ripped from the Headlines" and the books my group (Young Adult III) will discuss are Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, and All We Know of Heaven by Jacquelyn Mitchard.

It's $65 but that includes breakfast, lunch, and a sherry reception, so it's worth every penny. Register here: Book Fest 2008. And sign up for Young Adult III.

Review: Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

I picked up this book for two reasons: 1. I loved the cover art. 2. I loved Mass's previous offering, Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall. That's about it. I think there are many worse reasons to pick up a book, don't you?

The plot: Ally (short for Alpha), Bree, and Jack would never talk to each other if they all went to the same school. Ally has lived most of her life on the Moon Shadow Campground, which is miles from nowhere. She's an expert on astronomy and has never read a fashion magazine or watched a teen TV show. Bree, who spends hours on looking her best and securing her spot at the top of her school social ladder, is convinced that she was adopted into her family of academics. Her parents are astronomers and her little sister doesn't understand the point of eyeliner. Bree is brought to the Moon Shadow Campground by her parents, who have received a grant to be its caretakers for the next three years. Jack is, for want of a better description, a typical teenage boy. He's not interested in school and would rather spend his time in his tree house reading fantasy and science fiction novels and drawing pictures of aliens. After failith science, Jack is given the option of traveling with his teacher to Moon Shadow Campground to collect astronomical data and witness a solar eclipse. It's either that or make up the work in summer school. To Jack, there is no option.

Neither Ally nor Bree nor Jack is entirely thrilled about the days to come, but with nothing else around they have no choice but to get to know each other. Their isolation leads to some very cool discoveries about themselves, each other, and the universe (literally).

The good: Even though all the chapters in the alternating viewpoints are in first person, Mass does an excellent job of making the voices distinguished. It's easy to tell which character is talking when. Also, each character is at a crossroads in his or her life. Rather than turning their attitudes regarding the Moon Shadow Campground a complete one-eighty, Mass shows us that major life changes must be adjusted to. Even if you don't end up where you want to be, you can assimilate and make the most of yourself in an unfamiliar place without changing the basics of who you are. If I have one complaint about the book it's that Ally and Bree's younger siblings get a little too much screen time; they're cute but I would have liked more time with the main characters. But overall, I love that the setting is not in a school but still brings all the drama and self-discovery that is a teen's life.

The publisher lists this book as ages 8-12, but I don't think 13, maybe even 14-year-olds would find it too young. Those of you who lead book discussions may want to pick this one up.

Wendy Mass's blog || review at BookEnvy || Video review at The One-Minute Critic

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Interview with Heidi Tandy: Fair use, copyright, and what it means

I've mentioned my friend Heidi Tandy before, she who makes very adorable Supernatural fanvids and owns more pink clothing than anyone I know. What I haven't mentioned is that Heidi works as an intellectual property lawyer and has been involved in the administrative side of one of the largest Harry Potter fan sites on the web, FictionAlley.org, for many years. Recently, Heidi posted in her blog her happiness in the ruling of Lenz vs. Universal Music, which states that the Fair Use doctrine "permits limited use of copyright materials without the owner's permission."

Why does this matter to librarians? Because in this field, we get asked a lot of questions about what constitutes copyright and fair use, especially in school libraries. With the fandom presentation that Liz Burns and I are giving at the upcoming YALSA YA Lit Symposium in Nashville, we're talking about an entire set of activities that revolves around fair use and transformative works (works derived from the creations of another person). Because I don't even pretend to speak Lawyerese, I interviewed Heidi, who is very good at translating Lawyerese into English, via email about what this ruling means for fandomers and transformative works everywhere.

Carlie Webber: Tell us what constitutes "fair use" and why it matters to librarians?

Heidi Tandy: Fair use is a lawful use of copyright, as the Northern District of California said in Lenz v. Universal Music. Basically, fair use allows someone who is not the copyright owner, and who is not licensed by the copyright owner, to reproduce a copyrighted work. Generally, fair use exists when a portion of the first work is incorporated into a second work, perhaps in a review, or in educational materials, or in fanfic, or in a parody, or in a transformative work.

CW: How has this ruling changed what we can and cannot do with original works?

HT:That's the nifty thing - it didn't change anything. It clarified things. There was no case that said that it was copyright infringement to upload a video to YouTube that featured a video of a toddler dancing to a Prince song - and the new case affirmatively stated that it may be fair use.

CW: What do teachers, librarians, fan writers, etc. still have to be careful of in terms of how we use another's work for teaching or transformation?

HT:You need to look to the four factors that the US Copyright Office has stated need to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

For example, f you're teaching writing or literature or history and have students write a story based on another work, and the student is instructed not to copy extensively from the first story, it's likely that the student's story will be fair use.

CW: Give us some examples of things that are thought to be fair use, but really aren't.

HT: Oh, that's a difficult one. Anything transformative may be fair use, so something isn't fair use if there's nothing transformative about it. Splitting an episode of a TV show into five parts so you can upload it onto YouTube isn't transformative, but using five minutes of clips from a tv show to create a fanvid about that episode may be fair use, because you have taken a small portion of the work, there's no
commercial purpose, and the effect on the potential market is minimal. Photocopying a textbook and sharing it with a class isn't transformative and under the Kinko's case it isn't fair use, either. But putting a quotation from that book on a mural on the wall is probably fair use.

CW: Twitter just suspended account of people who were Twittering as characters from Mad Men. If the author or creator of an original work states that he or she does not want derivative works created from his books/films/TV shows but a fan creates it anyway, does the creator of the original work have any recourse? In the past, writers like Anne Rice and Nora Roberts have requested that people not write fanfic about their characters.

HT: It depends on what's created, but generally, the wishes of the original creator won't impact a court's analysis under copyright or trademark law, although it might make it more likely that the creator
will send his or her fans a cease and desist letter, or even take them to court. The original creator can always take fanwork creators to court - the real question is whether the original creator can win. The court would use the fair use analysis to determine if the fanwork is fair use, because if it is, it is a lawful use of copyright.

It's going to be more difficult for copyright owners to claim that a fan creation should be taken down via a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice now, at least in California, because of the recent ruling. A copyright holder now has to at least examine whether something is fair use before sending the DMCA notice, and a claim of fair use can be used to fight back against the copyright holder's assertion that something is fair use.

CW: I know there are always questions in the library world about what copyright covers and how long it lasts. Can you give us a crash course in copyright?

HT:The copyright office has an excellent collection of information at http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf - but it primarily talks about works that are created now. For works that were created before the 1970s, the situation can be a little different. If you need to find out whether a work is still protected by copyright, check out the Public Domain Sherpa.

Basically, copyright gives the creator of a work a bundle of rights - including the rights of duplication and distribution. The creator can give those rights away temporarily - that's a license - or permanently
- that's an assignment.

Thanks, Heidi!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Interview: Nancy Werlin and her Impossible talent

I've read quite a number of books since I reviewed Nancy Werlin's Impossible, but (not impossibly) it still remains one of my favorites of the year. A curse, a legend, and a family make up a story I think few writers outside of Nancy could handle really well. With the book coming out in the not too distant future, the time has come for me to post an interview Nancy graciously did with me. Books! Writing! Song lyrics! Read on!

Carlie Webber: With its elements of legend and fantasy, Impossible is a big departure from your previous works. What inspired you to write it?

Nancy Werlin: I first began thinking about this book well over ten years ago. At the time I didn't think of it as having fantasy elements, but as a technological puzzle novel. I'd been listening to the Simon & Garfunkel version of the song "Scarborough Fair," and it struck me that the singing lover was making impossible demands. I thought, "He's angry at her; he won't ever forgive her," and I wondered why. What had she done? Later I discovered that this was only one version of an old ballad with many versions, none of which answered my questions but some of which -- the Elfin Knight branch of the song --
specified an unearthly rather than a human lover making the demands. Now, that was interesting!

Over the years, from time to time, I'd idly go back to think about possible solutions to the riddles in the song, because I always knew that one day, I'd write "The Scarborough Fair novel." But I believed I needed the answers to the riddles before I could start work.

Not so, however. In 2006, the plot involving Lucy and Zach and the Elfin Knight suddenly came to me, and that was what got me started writing, and rather obsessively, too. So that was the inspirational jumping-off point, though not the initial point of inspiration.

Now, after the fact, I believe I was really inspired to begin writing by the novel's central question: What is true love? That interested me even more deeply than the puzzles. I've grown used to the fact that all my books dwell on questions or themes that I'm trying to figure out for myself. Normally I don't come to conscious realization of the central question or theme is until the book is done.

This book may be a departure for me, but really, it's not such a big departure. I've always loved fantasy as a reader, and many of my books are difficult to classify once you take a good look: contemporary YA mixed with mystery, suspense, and psychological issues; I've thrown in ghosts, I've used science fiction elements. So, using a bit of fantasy felt like a natural thing for me to do -- the story demanded it; as its writer, I simply responded.

One point I often like to make about writing novels is that there's never a single inspiration; it's always a series, some of which only come during the actual writing of the book . . . and you have to trust that they will indeed come. "Trust the process."

CW: Are the characters based on anyone you know?

NW:They're all me! Which is another way, perhaps, of saying no. I don't normally take inspiration from outside; I go inside myself for the core of my characters, and then spin off from there, adding what the story requires and watching what the developing characters have to say for themselves and making adjustments and changes as I work.

That said, I'm clear that Sarah Hebert is an homage to the wonderful women friends I've been fortunate enough to have. I ended up giving her a bigger role than I had at first intended, because as I worked on the scenes with Lucy and Sarah, I began thinking about the importance of women's friendships. Also, Soledad and Miranda, in their different ways, are homage to my own mother, while their relationship also reflects back on the theme of women's friendships.

Hm. I guess these were topics I was thinking about also. "True love" doesn't just cover romantic love, does it? It also covers friendship, and, of course, parental love.

CW: Where did the words to Miranda's song come from? Are they simply an older version of the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, or did you make them up?

NW: The lyrics are original to IMPOSSIBLE, but closely patterned on both the Simon & Garfunkel version (which I expected readers would be most likely to know) of "Scarborough Fair' and also on a line of
versions called "The Elfin Knight," from the book of ballads collected by Francis Child (known as "Child ballads.") There are many different versions of this song, and it's likely that many more have been lost to time, so I felt very comfortable inventing a branch of my own for the novel.

I didn't write the lyrics by myself, though. I worked on them with my friend, fantasy writer Franny Billingsley, who has a much better sense of music and meter than I do.

CW: The puzzle presented by the song is fascinating. How did you figure out what the answers would be?

NW: I figured the puzzles out during the course of writing the novel, and it was a long and painful process over multiple drafts. Solution #1 got solved during the first draft, but #2 and #3 three weren't finally and completely solved until later drafts. For a time, in frustration, I even wondered if I could get
away with not solving all three puzzles . . . because I didn't see how I was going to do it. Or rather, how Lucy would.

In the end, I have to credit 1) my own big mouth and 2) friends. I talked about the problem with many people. My friend Kathleen Sweeney had just begun doing felting, so she had the solution to the "shirt without needle or seam." The acre of land "between the salt water and the sea strand" -- my fiance, Jim McCoy, took me to the Bay of Fundy on vacation, and as I watched the tide race in, I had that answer. And then, the plowing and sowing -- it was Franny Billingsley who thought of grinding up the kernel of corn and mixing it with sand. Carrot seed, which is tiny, is apparently planted in this way.

All the goats' horn innovations were my own. Yes, I invented that little wheelbarrow! In my own mind, anyway.

CW: Complete this sentence: No one knows I'm really good at...

NW: The problem is that I am not secretive about the things I'm good at, because there are so many more things at which I am extremely bad! So if I may make a little adjustment: The thing I'm most proud of being good at is being a friend.

CW: My favorite question to ask authors: What's one book, written by someone else, that you wish you had written?

NW: Another very difficult question, because the books that most knock me out, as a reader, are books that I know I could never, never have written, for various reasons. So I'm just grateful on my knees that somebody did.

My favorite book in all the world (and in that position since I was 14) is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Recently, The Post-Birthday World and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver have awed me completely. I'm glad I didn't write them, because I wouldn't want to live in those worlds (and also, I doubt I'd have the skills), but oh, they were good. Convincing and unforgettable; the kind of fiction
that changes you.

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by Gerald Edwards -- another recent read, and one that leapt instantly into my top five of all time. No kidding. I wish more people knew about this novel.

Recent YA reads that I thought fantastic: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson, and Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. (YA fiction has never been better than it is right now.)

Oh, wait! I've got an answer to your question after all. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. How I wish I'd been able to write that.

CW: What do you have planned for your next book?

NW: I'm going to continue working with fantasy elements and Elves, and I'm still interested in thinking about love and friendship, and of course I always work with contemporary YA and with suspense -- and that's really all I can say at this point.

Nancy, thanks so much for your fabulous answers. Everyone, go out and read Impossible the day it's released, if you haven't already read it. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Me, this great book, and the Dead