Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Professionals

In Huffington Post today, Sarah McCarry decries the cult of niceness among the almost exclusively female YA bloggers.* She's disturbed in particular by the lack of teeth in book reviews; according to McCarry, YA reviews and resulting commentary are simply group hugs in disguise. She believes this ultimately perpetuates gender stereotypes and robs YA writers (again, mostly female) of a chance to be seen as worthy of serious critical study.

I will agree with her that it is difficult to find YA book reviews equal to the lengthy, insightful criticism commonly given to adult books. I also agree with her take on what criticism should be: "But the role of the critic is not to make people feel good, to distribute hugs and goodwill all around; it is to contextualize and examine the role of a particular book, to evaluate its success as a work of art, to demand of both author and reader a sense of accountability, and to hopefully open up a conversation."

Yes, this is exactly the job of the critic, but is it the job of the blogger?

The community of YA writers and bloggers is so incredibly supportive. I strongly believe this helps keep the YA category in the black while most genres dip red in these trying economic times. Financial success is important and will keep quality young adult literature on the shelves at your local bookstore. The blogging world IS responsible, in part, for keeping YA literature in the public eye and this benefits everyone. I don't see anything wrong with that, as the mainstream media often ignores the genre.

This is not to say YA should be exempt from real criticism. (This is one reason Kirkus is so vitally important.) Serious criticism of YA lit will only further elevate the category, and legitimatize some very worthy writers in the eyes of the literary establishment.

Bloggers, though, are not bound to the same rules as critics. We can cheerlead; we can promote; we can gush. What we can't do, however, is call this criticism. There is absolutely nothing wrong with copying and pasting a novel's jacket copy and then writing a line or two stating how much you liked the book. This is not review, however, it is a recommendation, and should be labeled as such.

In the YA world, bloggers are a consistent and powerful force. Yes, we are mostly female, and mostly subscribe to the "catch more flies with honey" philosophy, but I dare you to scour the blogosphere and find a group of people more devoted to sustaining the health of a single genre. Serious criticism has never been the goal (which isn't to say it wouldn't be wonderful if more objective, experienced critics started blogging with this sole purpose), but celebration has, and, in YA, it seems there's more and more to celebrate every day.

What do you guys think?

*Thanks to author Lee Nichols for the link.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Stop sitting in front of a computer monitor and go outside. Plant something. Anything at all!

Smell the air, marvel at the blueness of our sky, lie on the ground and watch the clouds.

Try not to be wasteful. Reuse what you have and recycle what you can no longer make use of. Try to eat food grown by people you have met. Ride your bike. Walk. Live simply.

And, finally, two of my favorite quotes:

"I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars." Walt Whitman

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." William Shakespeare

Happy Earth Day, my friends!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Coming Clean

You, dear blog reader, are just about to read one of my deepest, darkest, most disturbing secrets:

I have never read Wuthering Heights.

I've spent many years evading convos about its gothic charm, nodding when my friends discussed Heathcliff's obsession--I'm not proud of my prevarication. What's worse is I even specialized in the 19th Century British novel in grad school. Uh-huh.

I've happily dug into books by Eliot, Austen, Collins, Dickens, and even Charlotte Bronte. Why one sister and not the other? I don't know. It's one of those books, the ones you pick up at the bookstore, walk around with it for a while and then say, Ah, I don't think so before you make it to the register. I have a list of these books.

If you're brave enough, post one one title from your "never read" list in the comments box. Come on--it feels good to get it out in the open.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Five Excitement!

All things bookish and writerly this week:

1. I read two FAB YA books recently: Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors (magical realism done right, along with a sideplot that deals with a family's financial problems--a rarity in YA) and The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting (OK, I read every word, but it felt like I ran through this book--I needed to know how it would end. This is a true thriller.) Check them out.

2. Our local librarians have done a fantastic job with our library's YA section. They've turned it into a total hangout, complete with chaise lounges and comfy rugs and good lighting. The teens want to spend time there, and they do. The next town over has a separate library set up just for YA literature! This makes me happy.

3. I was speaking with a friend who I hadn't seen in a while. When I mentioned I was writing YA, this person said, "Oh, good choice. Those are the easiest books to write and the most lucrative." I kept my mouth shut (probably because I was choking on my gum), but you could imagine the things running through my head. I hate everything a statement like this implies! What I ended up saying was, "Yeah, you're right. Maybe you should try it sometime." I guess that was kind of passive-aggressive, but, oh, well...

4. I love Twitter, but...I think I'm going to establish "dark periods" where I log off the Internet and devote that time to writing. Twitter is awesome, but the constant interaction is too alluring for a conversation starved writer. Writing can be lonesome endeavor, and for me, it needs to be if I want to do it right. So far fewer tweets from me, at least until I finish this book!

5. Check out Lisa and Laura's blog today for a guest post by Ms. Booksniper, the mysterious publishing insider whose fantastic and informative blog is just getting off the ground. She's funny and charming and in-the-know. I just wish I could figure out who she is....

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thinking Inside the Ziplock

A couple of years ago, my youngest son swallowed a marble. Oh, not by accident, but because he thought it would be "fun." I frantically called the doctor who said, "Well, you've got to take him in to the ER."

I said, very maturely, "Do I have to?"

"I need an X-Ray of his intestines. Sometimes marbles get stuck in a little pocket and that could mean trouble."

We had already visited the ER twice--one broken arm, one possible concussion. I thought for sure another visit meant DCFS would take me into a mirrored interrogation room and beat me with an IV tube. So again, I said, "Seriously? Do I have to?"

"If you don't, you'll have to monitor his output for two days and sift through it to find the marble." She sighed and said, "Most people don't take that option."

I wasn't most people, I thought. I would take that option. "I'm going to do that," I said.

She laughed. "Good luck, and call me in a few days if it doesn't work."

OK, I'd changed a gazillion diapers by that point, so the task at hand shouldn't be so bad, right? But this wasn't the sweet, faint smelling poop of the newborn babe, this was a five-year-old's "output"--smelly, bulky, adult-style poop.

This is what I decided to do: When he visited the bathroom, I had him poop in a ziplock bag. Then I simply closed the bag an smooshed it down. After about twelve hours--bingo! One very hard, very round marble. I opened the baggie just a little, squeezed the marble into the sink, and blasted it with hot water. My hands never had to touch any, um, output.

When I called the doc to report my success, she said, "Let's hear it for thinking outside of the box." But was that really thinking outside of the situation or taking what I had and making it work for me?

I've been doing a lot of beta reading lately, for writers at every stage of the process. Common first responses to criticism usually run along the lines of "Oh, crap, I have to throw everything out" or "I can't change it, because I can't think of what else to do." Sometimes these are appropriate and unavoidable outcomes. Most of the time, though, the writer needs to recognize that the box is in pretty good shape, it's just what's inside it that need some purging, rearranging, or expanding. It's not easy to decide which you need to do, but the Ah-Ha! moment is there if you have the confidence to wait for it.

Unfortunately, with revising, you usually do have to get your hands dirty...

(PS-After a major disinfecting, I kept the marble. My cousin jokes that I should drill a hole through it and wear it around my neck, a constant reminder (read: guilt tool) for my son of the lengths his mother will go to for him--or, to avoid a crowded ER.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Best Contest Ever

Lisa and Laura Roecker are celebrating the 500th follower on their blog by hosting an amazing contest. The prizes are out of this world (Pineapple pizza! Prosecco! A pearl necklace!), and you can enter by clicking here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday Five

Random, as usual:

1. Book Trailers: When I first heard of the concept I could see the marketing potential, but the examples out there were a little, um, lame. The whole point is to get readers excited, right? The trailers I saw merely confused me, and, I'm sure, other potential readers. I felt that way until I saw a trailer that did EVERYTHING right. The trailer for Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles did exactly what it should--it made me want to run to Borders to buy the book. (I dare you to watch it and not have Es su libro,'s a book running through your head all day!) Simone's second book in the Perfect Chemistry series, Rules of Attraction, comes out in this month, and the book trailer will have you itching to read it. Check it out here. Also, read about Simone's experience making the trailer on Kristin Nelson's blog, Pub Rants.

2. Allergy season is upon us. As a long-time sufferer, I'm always trying to come up with alternative ways to battle the mighty pollen. Last year I tried eating some raw, locally-produced honey through the winter months, and it worked (to a certain extent). I'm using honey this year, along with my neti-pot twice a day (with a few drops of grapefruit seed extract added to the saline solution). Neti-pots freak a lot of people out, but I say, get over yourselves and give the old neti a try. Your sinuses will thank you.

3. I want a Mac notebook computer. So bad. But, I'm a little hesitant to spend the cash on something I will tote around with me. Is it worth it, oh great Mac users?

4. Mad Men Barbie Dolls. I'm almost tempted to take the cash I've saved for a Mac and spend it on these:
Do you think they come with little packs of Lucky Strikes and martini shakers?

5. Spring Fever. Every year I get a dose of the crazies come spring, which usually results in me doing something drastic to my hair. Last year I started growing the gray out (I've had gray hair since my late teens! No lie.), so now I kind of look like this (um, after a professional blow-out):

The problem is I don't have Ken Paves living in my closet, so I need a hair style for curly hair that will work with the gray and not make me look like I spend all my time playing bunco in slippers and a housedress.

This is what I've come up with:

Curly bob:

Layered, almost 70s `do:

The sleek bob (and, yes, I chose this photo on purpose, so make all the cougar jokes you want...):