Monday, October 25, 2010

Anita Silvey's Children's Book Almanac

Just launched, a fabulous online daily almanac by the awesome Anita Silvey. Her essays about children's books are wonderful.

As you know, I'm doing some of the research and editing for the project, with Roaring Brook Press. An actual print edition of this almanac should be out next spring.

Please do pass this on to any teachers, librarians, and other folks you think might be interested in this free daily dose of great writing and reading recommendations regarding children's books!


Friday, October 1, 2010

Snooki Venn Diagram

Sorry, I normally don't take cheap shots like this, but I couldn't help myself on this one:

Thank you to Mattie, The Daily What, and Flickr for this.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Writing Advice: By Writers, For Writers

A recent post on The League of Extraordinary Writers blog inspired my own post, as I began thinking over all the writing advice I've read over the past few years. This is particularly helpful to me right now as I haven't written anything other than an email or a letter to various relatives the past 3 weeks. If I'm not writing, I'm still reading, and as cleanliness is next to Godliness or something of the sort, so reading about writing should be next to actually doing it.

What a treasure trove of advice I've rediscovered!  The first advice that comes to mind is Elmore Leonard's essay for the NYTimes series "Writers on Writing". A complete archive of that column can be found here. I believe writing advice is as personal as shopping advice: if it doesn't fit your style, you're not going to pay attention to it. I want my writing to be the spare, pointed, hooptedoodle-lacking writing Elmore Leonard is encouraging, and so I take his advice. (Blogging is different, this is more like chatting to strangers.) But his advice might not fit you, which is why you should read through that archive; I know I'm planning to.

I also take the advice of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, because even if I don't remember everything she says, that core concept is comforting - we all have to begin somewhere, and might as well take it bird (word) by bird (word). Though I read this before grad school, I believe it was suggested or required reading for a course or two, and so I enjoyed it again, along with Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster, books I'm not sure I would have picked up had it not been for classes Writing I & I.

Some of my favorite books on writing are actually for children, most notably Avi's A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End: The Right Way to Write Writing, illustrated by Tricia Tusa.  This book is a sequel to The End of the Beginning: Being the Adventures of a Small Snail (and an Even Smaller Ant), which, while not about writing, does make some clever commentary about the nature of books and fables. As extra prizes for the Odyssey Book Shop's annual children's writing contest last year, I had the pleasure of handing out both A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End and another book on writing for children, one about the more technical aspects, entitled Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook by Ellen Potter, Anne Mazer, and illustrated by Matt Phelan. Both present encouragement and advice for aspiring young writers.

Just at the time I began writing this post, I discovered two more books about writing I need to look through. One, How Fiction Works by James Wood, has been compared to E.M. Forster's work mentioned above, but the second is the one I'm most interested in. Off the Page: Writers Talk about Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between is a compilation of authors' input marketed as a "literary tell-all". Edited by Carole Burns, with an introduction by Marie Arana, authors are quoted under section titles such as "Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?: How Characters Come to Life", "All That Jazz: Playing with Language and Style to Suit the Story", and "Good Writers Borrow, Great Writers Steal: The Writers Whom Writers Love and Why". The list of authors includes Tobias Wolff, Colm Toibin, Art Spiegelman, Marisha Pessl, Tim Parks, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter Mosley, Alice McDermott, Andrea Levy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edward P. Jones, E. L. Doctorow, Michael Cunningham, A. S. Byatt, Russell Banks, and Paul Auster to name a few.

What books about writing inspire you?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nom de Plume...

...a.k.a. pen name a.k.a. pseudonym a.k.a. literary double a.k.a. alias.

Do not be concerned, I am not talking about this Halloween costume supply shop.

I'm talking about the custom of a person who was born with one name adopting another (or several other) names under which to publish their books.

This was, and still is, a common practice among writers for various reasons. At one time (think at least two hundred years ago), female authors often used male pen names, fearing no one would read their books if they knew the author was a woman. In more contemporary times, authors who are established in one genre and want to break into another genre, may use a pen name so readers don't make a judgment based on what they've previously written. 

AbeBooks has written a great post on their website, showcasing the books of many talented writers that wrote under a name different from their original. Of course they mention the classics like Mark Twain (actually Samuel Langhorne Clemens), and for me, Nora Roberts, who is also well-known for writing as J.D. Robb.

I remember how shocking it was for me to find out Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb were the same person. (Okay, shocking may have been an overstatement, but I was surprised.) Do you remember any "big reveals" in your life?

Some of the authors who immediately come to mind (who use pen names) are children's book authors like R.L. LaFevers (real first name - Robin) and E. Lockhart (the E stands for Emily, but her real last name is Jenkins). I don't know why R.L. LaFevers writes under that name, but E. Lockhart writes on her website:  

"What does E stand for? What’s your real name? And why do you go by E?
E. stands for Emily, and I use it on my teen books because I write other kinds of books using my whole, legal name. My dad calls me E., and I always liked it."

As we new writers look into getting published, I think it's a legitimate question to ask ourselves - do we want to write under our own legal names or not? If you decide you do, but can't decide on a name, this handy dandy Pen Name Generator website will create one for you.

Mine is apparently Cindy Capleton. What's yours?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome to September!

Hi All.....
I just sent a blog invite to Nancy, and as soon as she answers the invite we will all be Guinea Pig bloggers!
time to make a plan for a weekly? monthly? meet up at the hangout in Hadley. What do you think?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lane Smith & Molly Leach

The world of picture book design is a mysterious and wonderful place. I recently found a video about the dynamic duo of picture book creation, husband and wife team - Molly Leach and Lane Smith. Complimenting nicely the Horn Book Magazine article, Design Matters, this video lets the viewer in a little further on the design process of picture books. Bonus: You also get to see snippets of their lovely home offices.

Makes me really wish I had snapped up a copy of The Happy Hocky Family before it went out of print.

Thanks to Fuse #8 for the video link.

Also, on a sidenote for any Lane Smith fans, check out his blog, Curious Pages. It's tagline states: "recommended inappropriate books for kids TM" and has hilarious commentary on classic children's books. I unearthed a copy of Elizabite by H.A. Rey in a used bookstore and was cracking up reading it, thinking "How could I have made it this far in life without seeing this book?" I am so happy to know, I am not alone.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What Anne Carroll Moore Always Wanted?

I grew up in a small town with a small library. It was dark and crowded, full of shelf upon shelf of old books with one-color cloth covers, names embossed in gold and worn off so you had to read the title page if you wanted to know what you'd found. The pages were thin, usually spotted brown in places, and they smelled musty and delicious. To me, each one was a forgotten treasure: I discovered E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Elizabeth Enright, and L. M. Boston on those shelves, and for years believed that I was the only one who had read the secrets of the Psammead and the Natterjack, Gone-Away Lake and Green Knowe.

Every spring, this library has a fundraising book sale. Every available surface is covered with old donated books and signs that read "Fill a bag for $1!" My mother went this year around the time of my graduation from Simmons with an MFA in Writing for Children and looked for children's books that might be of interest to me. She found one, complete with its own sign:

She put the book in her closet to give to me as a graduation gift, and lost it until yesterday when she cleaned out the closet.

The dust jacket is missing, the binding is beginning to unbind, and the front matter has turned the color of a nicely-toasted marshmallow, but it's absolutely beautiful. I delighted in reading the original first line on one of the original first pages: "When Mrs. Frederick C. Little's second son was born, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse." Two days after the book was released, Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker, read that line and told White he had made "one serious mistake." Jill Lepore recounts their conversation in her article "The Lion and the Mouse: The battle that reshaped children's literature." Apparently, Ross shouted at White, "You said [Stuart] was born. God damn it, White, you should have had him adopted!" White heeded his boss and in later editions changed Stuart's first appearance from "born" to "arrived."

Lepore's article is worth a read for more than just that anecdote. It spares no detail of the drama surrounding Stuart Little, Anne Carroll Moore, Ursula Nordstrom, and E.B. and Katherine White in the 1930s and 40s. E.B. White had written an article in 1938 that called writing for children "easy work," and Anne Carroll Moore, then Superintendent of the Department of Work with Children at the New York Public Library, replied with "I wish to goodness you would do a real children's book yourself." By the time White's first manuscript was ready to submit to legendary Harper children's editor Nordstrom in 1945, Moore had been retired for four years. In typical Moore-ish fashion, though, she felt that it was more her book than anyone else's and insisted on seeing a copy before its release. Nordstrom begrudgingly sent a galley...and Moore utterly despised it. She hated it so much she sent a fourteen-page letter to the Whites, had a closed-door meeting with Nordstrom about pulling it from the Harper list, and ordered Frances Clarke Sayers, her successor at the NYPL, not to buy the book for the library. (Sayers did buy a copy, but she kept it hidden under her desk.)

Despite Moore's best intentions, Stuart Little had a first print run of 50,000 copies, sold 100,000 copies in just three months, and has now sold over four million copies. After all of her work to keep it out of libraries and schools, Anne Carroll Moore is probably rolling in her grave to think that someone took a copy of Stuart Little out of a dump, brought it inside a library, and got it into the hands of a third-grade teacher. But now, just like Stuart at the end of his book, he is finally "headed in the right direction."