Tuesday, November 25

Books. Or: my love for author introductions of re-issued classics

[Edited to add: After I posted this, I worried that it wasn't teen-fictiony enough for TFC, but then I thought about how the separation between YA fiction/authors and "adult" fiction/authors is one of the things I don't love about the industry, and how fans of both overlap, and I like that overlap, and that as authors and readers we read and think widely, and admire widely, I hope!]

I’m going to start with a fangirly story about Richard Peck, but I promise that this post will eventually get to the topic at hand this week: books and reading. At the Utah Book Festival, I had the lucky chance to spend some quality time with the acclaimed and bemedaled Mr. Peck, and marvel at his career longevity and energy. At one point, he asked my husband and me about favorite movies. After we answered, we asked him about his favorite movie, and without hesitation, he said: Dodsworth. Now, I think of myself as pretty film literate, across genres and decades, but not only had I not seen this movie, I’d never even heard of it! How humiliating! I don’t like to not know things. It conflicts with my image of myself as the all-knower-of-things. Anyway, because I developed a great affection for Richard and wanted to prove myself worthy of his friendship, I of course ran right out and got hold of Dodsworth. It was great. In the long run, it’s mostly a movie about ideas, and I liked the ideas it explored and the way it explored them. But this post is not about movies, it’s about books!

So, Dodsworth the movie is based on Dodsworth the novel, by Sinclair Lewis. I checked the Kindle store to see if it was available, as a lot of classics are, on the cheap (like $5 and under for Kindle versions, much of the time). No sign of Dodsworth there, but I did find a bunch of other Sinclair Lewis books, including one of his most well-known, Main Street, in a Modern Library eBook Edition. I started reading it the other night and it includes an introduction by the author. I love author introductions! They tell you so much about who the author is and what kind of relationship he or she had with his work in the process of writing it, and later at the time of writing the intro. They tell you if the author has a sense of humor about life and work, or is a self-important blowhard. They also offer inspiration and understanding to authors who might feel uninspired or misunderstood. Lewis’s introduction made me immediately love him and feel inclined to love his work. Here are some quotables:

“To me (and I think to most writers) there is no conceivable subject so uninteresting as one’s own book, after you have finished the year of ditch-digging and bricklaying, read the proofs with the incessant irritation of realizing how much better you might have said this or that if you had had another year, then fretted over the reviews---equally over those in which you are hoisted to the elevation of world master, and those in which you are disclosed as a hypocritical illiterate.”

He started the book fifteen years before it was published. Originally it had a different protagonist. He threw out his original material and started over. About 30,000 words into the do-ver, he decided that he wasn’t up to it yet. (And writes, “Whether I was up to it in 1919 [the year it was published], either, I must leave to critics less prejudiced.”) He went off and wrote short stories for awhile and sold a serial to the Saturday Evening Post. That gave him enough money to take a year off and he put nose to the grindstone, “eight hours a day, seven days in most weeks, though a normal number of daily hours of creative writing is supposed to be about four…I never worked so hard, and never shall work so hard, again…unless Comes the Revolution and I am driven from writing to real work, like bricklaying or soldiering or being a nursemaid.”

Despite the fact that I sometimes see all the different versions of classics as just a cheap way for publishers to make money on expired copyrights, a good edition tells you stuff you might never get to know about a writer who died before we all had blogs. This edition also has commentaries from ten other authors, including E.M. Forster, Dorothy Parker, H.L. Mencken, and Sherwood Anderson. I’m not reading those yet, because I like to know a book myself, first.

Speaking of the book, I’m loving it. It’s about small town Midwestern America just after the turn of the century. The protagonist is a college grad from St. Paul, who marries a country doctor and reluctantly moves to one of the prairie towns that she so hates and fears. Here she is taking a walk on the first day in her new town:

"She stared with seriousness at every concrete crossing, every hitching-post, every rake for leaves; and to each house she devoted all her speculation. What would they come to mean? How would they look six months from now? Which of these people whom she passed, now mere arrangements of hair and clothes, would turn into intimates, loved or dreaded, different from all the other people in the world?"

And one last note about the Kindle itself as it relates to the books/reading topic. After owning mine for a month or so, I'm finding that I go to it for very specific things: reading manuscripts, reading one of those "through the bible in a year, for dummies and lazy people!" bibles, and finding cheap but good electronic classics. Often the versions at the library are either big heavy hardcover editions, or mass market paperbacks with tiny print and yellowed pages. Something about having a classic on the Kindle makes it feel accessible and new, and you're not thinking, "Damn, this is an old book!" as you read. Which is good for a reluctant reader like me.

Monday, November 24

Sunday, November 23

Books: Let's Hear It For the Boys

Recently there's been a lot of talk about how the poor economy is having a negative impact on book sales. One area where agents say editors are still aggressively looking for new titles is novels for tweens and teens with male protagonists. To understand why this is so, one need only stroll through a bookstore to see how female-dominated most offerings are. Since the theme at TFC this week is Books, I thought I'd go through the list of books I've read thus far in 2008 to see which ones with male protagonists I could recommend. And here they are:

DEADLINE, by Chris Cruthcher. After being diagnosed with an incurable form of leukemia, 18-year-old Ben Wolf decides to forego treatment and keep his illness a secret, instead electing to pack an entire lifetime worth of living into his senior year.

GYM CANDY, by Carl Deuker. A high school football player resorts to steroids to amp up his game.

BOY TOY, by Barry Lyga. A then-and-now story about how the sexual relationship a boy has with his teacher at age 12 still affects everything in his life now that he's 18.

KNIGHTS OF THE HILL COUNTRY, by Tim Tharp. Think "Friday Night Lights" only in small-town Oklahoma, where sometimes football even ranks ahead of God and country.

GETTING THE GIRL, by Marcus Zusak. An earlier work from the best-selling author of "The Book Thief," set in Australia, about family dynamics and competition between brothers.

And since I'd be remiss if I made such a list and didn't give a shout-out to my own husband:

SOMETHING HAPPENED, by Greg Logsted, about a 13-year-old boy, still mourning the death of his father, who falls prey to the attentions of a hot new teacher; and ALIBI JUNIOR HIGH, forthcoming, also by Greg Logsted, about the globe-trotting son of a CIA agent, forced into hiding, who now faces the real challenge of his life: junior high.

Oh, and I just happen to be working on a new book myself with a male protagonist.


Be well. Don't forget to write.

Tuesday, November 18

Holiday Music

Every year at about this time, I buy myself a new holiday CD. I particularly like Christmas music because I love the festive feeling it gives me. My collection is quite extensive: from classical piano to country to rap. One of my family's traditions is gettin' down with Ricky Martin (Ay-ay-ay It's Christmas) and I want to personally thank him for helping me lose my post-birth baby weight. Gracias, Ricky!
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This year, I found a CD by Utah artist Danielle Vaughn. It's called "Noel," and it is great for listening to while driving or while typing away on my keyboard. I bought a bunch for my friends and family and had her autograph them. Cool, huh?

Does holiday music make you want to puke, or does it put you in a merry mood? Do you have a favorite holiday song or CD? If so, please share!

Songs as Stories

I've been thinking about songs as stories a lot lately and since it is Music week on Teen Fiction Cafe, I thought it would be the perfect time to blog about it. I've always loved a song that tells a story. I know most songs do in a vague, emotional way, but I'm talking about the kind of songs where you can literally picture the characters like you do when you are reading a book.

I was exposed to those songs at a very early age and even though I really only remember them as background noise, they definitely influenced me subconsciously. When I was young, my parents listened to a lot of folk music when I was little, so I grew up on songs by Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and others. Their songs often told stories about people who worked hard to get by or who were trying to bring change to the world. Admittedly, as I grew up and started discovering my own music, those artists didn't really interest me. Like my character, Emily from I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, I usually searched for music that was loud. One big exception was Johnny Cash.

I had a really cool teacher in college, Joe Meno (who some of you might know for his books like Hairstyles of Damned), who brought a boombox and a bunch of Johnny Cash CDs into our creative writing class one day. He wanted us to listen to the stories in the songs and think about music as a form of storytelling. After all, before the printing press and all of that, stories were often passed along as ballads. I wrote in my journal furiously during that class because it helped me figure out something very important about a novel idea I had that would become my second novel, Ballads of Suburbia (which is already available for pre-order on Amazon, squee!). I realized that the Johnny Cash songs that Joe was playing had something in common with a couple punks songs I really liked, namely "Story of My Life" by Social Distortion and "The Young Crazed Peeling" by The Distillers. They told the story of the most important moment (or moments) of someone's life (perhaps a real person, perhaps a character). I decided to do work that concept into Ballads of Suburbia. Each of my characters writes their ballad, or the defining moment of their life, in a notebook. Their ballads aren't songs though they all are introduced by lyrics that speak to the character and remind them of their story.

I'm about to start revisions on Ballads of Suburbia, which may be one reason I'm re-obsessed with songs that tell stories. But the other reason is a song called "Anna is a Stool Pigeon" by Tom Gabel, the lead singer of Against Me! who just put out a solo ep called Heart Burns. I've been listening to the song over and over again. It's based on the true story of activist Eric McDavid and I might just have to share the song with my parents because it likes the punk version of the folk songs they raised me with. Here's a clip of Tom performing it at my local radio station Q101:

This is the link to the video of the song, but be forewarned, the lyrics in this version are not "radio friendly."

As for some other story songs I like, Against Me! has a song called "Thrash Unreal" that weaves the story of a very interesting and sad female character. I have no doubt it will inspire me to write a story someday. Also, Nirvana is my favorite band and even though Kurt Cobain is known for writing lyrics that are hard to understand and interpret, he wrote one of my favorite story songs, "Polly," which is based on the true story of a girl from Tacoma, Washington who was kidnapped and escaped her captors. Their song "Paper Cuts" is also based on a newspaper article that Cobain read and the song "Scentless Apprentice" is basically a book report on the novel Perfume by Patrick Suskind. It's interesting to think of Kurt Cobain being inspired by books and newspaper articles to write his songs, when I'm inspired by music and newspaper articles to write my books!

What about you, what are some of your favorite songs that tell a story that is really vivid or resonates with you?

Thursday, November 13

Books to Movies

The countdown has begun... One week until the Twilight movie release! Judging from the responses to Alyson's post, most of us who are Twilight fans are looking forward to the movie, even if we aren't too sure we have high expectations.

It's always a gamble when a favorite book is adapted for the silver screen. Here are some examples from recent years (in no particular order):

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Fail. How could they add that stupid talking snake and music montage and take away the animated rug and sliding down the banister?

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Awesome, especially the quidditch game.

Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Fun. Ever notice how well Hector Elizondo plays the gentle advisor to confused diamond-in-the-rough young women? See Pretty Woman.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Fail. What was up with the costuming? Bleh.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Well done. Made me cry, just like the book.

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Disappointing. A beautiful movie to look at, but sooo chopped up.

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

OK, The DaVinci Code was not a favorite book, but I had to include it to ask - what was up with that awful hair they gave poor Tom Hanks? Ick.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Loved, loved, loved it. Great adaptation. Especially Dule Hill as Sam and Jon Voight as Mr. Sir.

And there are so many, many more.

Have any of your favorite books been made into movies? How did they fare?

P.S. I'm giving away the first ever advanced readers copy of DEATH BY DENIM this weekend on my blog. Come on by!

Wednesday, November 12

Twilight, anyone??

Since it’s anything goes week here at the café, I thought I’d write about a little phenomenon you might have heard of called TWILIGHT (the movie). And while I won’t get into a Team Edward vs. Team Jacob debate—I think we’ve all had enough of divisive politics for a while—I do want to talk about the amazing fact that according to Fandango, over 100 show times are already sold out across the nation—and we’re still a week away from the premiere!

And while I haven’t read past NEW MOON (yet!), I’m definitely planning to see the movie—at midnight—on Thursday—and yes, I preordered my tickets from Fandango too—or rather Jessica Brody pre-ordered them as she’s far more organized and industrious than me—but I digress!

And in case you were wondering (you probably weren't, but still) I don’t consider myself a rabid fan. I mean, I really really liked the book, and by the end I was even more than a little annoyed with my husband for not being a vampire like Edward—because how cool would that be? But still, I’m not as obsessed as some people I know (you know who you are!). So I guess that’s why I don’t have these huge expectations other than to be entertained.

Oh, and for Edward to be insanely hot!

But really, that’s it. And with Catherine Hardwicke at the helm, I’m pretty confident I’ll get what I want. But other than that, I honestly don’t care if it’s not just like the book, or if they take major liberties, or leave stuff out, or whatever. I’m just there for the camaraderie, the popcorn, and the good time.

Okay, and maybe I'm hoping for lots of Edward close ups--but that's it-- I swear!

What about you? Do you have major expectations? Will you be disappointed if it’s not true to the book?

Alyson Noel, is the award winning author of seven novels. EVERMORE, the first book in her upcoming IMMORTALS series will be in store on 02.03.09, BLUE MOON will follow in Fall 09, with three more titles in 2010. You can visit her at: www.alysonnoel.com

Monday, November 10

The same. But different

As a rule I'm far too lazy to get really obsessed with something, but within my shallow parameters it's fair to say that ever since I heard Liverpool band, The Wombats perform Bleeding Love at the VMAs last week I've been listening to it non-stop. Another favorite song of recent times is the Mandy Moore version of Umbrella which I heart big time.

So anyway, it got me to thinking, do I love both these songs because they are familiar or because they are different? But of course, as you teen fiction cafers have probably already twigged, it's because they are both, and it suddenly occur ed to me that this is what I always try to do with my writing.

I love taking something familiar (like death or zombies) and building up my own little world for it where things can happen my way. I'm not saying everyone will like what I do with it, but as a writer, it's definitely what keeps me feeling challenged and happy. So what do we all think? Do you like these sort of covers of have the artists committed the ultimate sacrilege????

Sunday, November 9

How did you think of that?????

For my post this week I decided to talk about ideas, and where they come from. It's a subject that fascinates me because my ideas are a bit thin on the ground. I'm truly envious of writers who say they have enough ideas to keep them going for the next fifty years. WTF!!!! I'm lucky if I have one or two swirling aimlessly around my head at any one time.

One source of ideas for me, though, is my teenage son. The things he gets up to, and has in the past, help me greatly. The staple gun incident.... one of his. A friend and him riding round a farm, one on a quad bike and one on a lawnmower and crashing..... and his friend persuading the owners of the bike/lawn mower not to tell his parents and letting him pay for the damage in instalments...... perfect opening to another book. Swapping keyboards in a computer test so his friend could complete his while it looked like he was doing the work..... ingenius. The trouble is he's getting older and more responsible.... so then what shall I do. I can't rely on my daughter. Apart from the fact she's older she's always behaved herself.....

So, if you write, where do your ideas come from?

Sunday, November 2

Halloween Photo Contest

Halloween greetings!
This year, I got to dress up four different days. To keep things exciting (and to keep my go-go boots from causing permanent damage to my feet), I changed my costume toward the end.
In the spirit of the season, I'm running a contest for Best Halloween Costume of 2008.
To enter, just email me a photo of you in this year's costume. wendy info (at) wendy toliver (dot) com.

On Saturday, November 8, I'll choose my favorite, then post it here at the Teen Fiction Cafe for everybody to see. (If you'd rather keep your photo private, you can still enter. Just let me know at time of entry.) The prize is a signed copy of The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren, appropriate for ages 12 and up. Good luck!