Save a Book, Burn a Village! It’s Banned Book Week!

 

 

ABFFE

 

 

As a person who abhors censorship and supports free thought and expression in all forms, Banned Book Week is one of my top favorite holidays. This is the time of year when we highlight those books that may terrify a small percentage of the population because of what they fear may happen if the information held within their pages is shared.

The horror! Run for the hills! Grab your pitchforks and torches! We must destroy what we don’t understand!

I obviously disagree. Knowledge isn’t inherently bad or good, it all depends on how you use it.

But I digress.Slaughterhouse Five

I’ll be celebrating this fantabulous holiday in a few ways, first by listening to a free audio version of Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, read by the author himself. I actually read it the first time when I was in high school. My dad had it lying around, probably found it falling out of an overstuffed bookcase, and the title or cover must’ve appealed to me. I don’t remember much except the last line of the book. If you’ve ever read it, I’m sure you know why. (I actually remember peeking ahead to see if it really ended like it said it did. I’m sure I’m not the only one.) I look forward to rediscovering this story, again. Listening to the tale in Vonnegut’s own voice will be an extra treat.

Learn more about Kurt Vonnegut here.

For the second way of celebrating, I turn to the American Library Association, who just released the yearly list of top ten frequently challenged books with the CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS (series) by Dav Pilkey in the number one spot. Reasons? Offensive language, unsuited for age group. Now, I’m pretty sure there are no curse words in CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, so what could this offensive language be? And unsuited for age group? I can’t think of anyone that would be more suited to read a story about a superhero named Captain Underpants than kids. Who do they think would be more suitable? Adults?

What are they talking about? Someone please explain this insanity.

Capt UnderpantsHere’s the book synopsis from the author’s website:

Meet George and Harold, a couple of wise guys. The only thing they enjoy more than playing practical jokes is creating their own comic books. Together they have created the greatest comic-book superhero in the history of their elementary school – CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS! But George and Harold’s principal, mean old Mr. Krupp, doesn’t like their pranks OR their comic books. He’s cooked up a plan to catch George and Harold and stop their shenanigans – once and for all! This book is about what happened when that plan backfired, and Captain Underpants leaped off the page to save the day!

And here’s the story behind the story from the author’s website:

This book is based on a superhero that Dav Pilkey invented way back in 1973 when he was a second-grader. The comics that Dav made were very much like the comic book that George and Harold sell on the playground in Chapter 3.

When I began making children’s books in 1986, my goal was to one day make a book about Captain Underpants. I wrote several different versions of this story, including a 48-page comic book, but every publisher who saw it turned it down. When the book was finally accepted in 1996, it was a real dream come true!  Dav Pilkey

Many of the things in the book are taken directly from Dav’s childhood: the practical jokes, the comics, even the cheesy animation technique called “Flip-O-Rama” (Dav and his friends used to amuse themselves by making these flip-action animated pictures in elementary school).

Dav Pilkey had dyslexia when he was a kid. He was always discouraged by wordy texts, small type, and lengthy chapters.

My goal with The Adventures of Captain Underpants was to make a chapter book that SEEMED like a picture book.   So I wrote incredibly short chapters and tried to fill each page with more pictures than words. I wanted to create a book that kids who don’t like to read would want to read— Dav Pilkey

 

Nope. Just not seeing anything diabolical mob violence-worthy there. Guess I will take a chance and actually READ THE BOOK before passing judgment. Yes, in solidarity of Mon Capitan el de Underpants, I shall BBW14_Poster_200x300read the first book of this series, and maybe even while in my underpants. Cape optional.

Learn more about Dav Pilkey here.

HAPPY BANNED BOOK WEEK, EVERYONE!

What are you reading to celebrate?

Advertisements

What I Learned at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference – Part 3: The Perks of Being Stephen Chbosky, with a Superb Side Order of Jay Asher

scbwi la banner 2014

 

Stephen Chbosky PicStephen Chbosky wrote and directed the feature film adaptation of his novel PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. That’s quite an impressive feat. He also gave an exceptional keynote address, giving away his top tips on how to write your own timeless classic, at this year’s SCBWI LA Conference.

Before that, I sat in on a breakout session he did with Jay Asher, author of 13 REASONS WHY. Their talk dealt with how to write realistic page turners. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to hear what these men had to say.

Chbosky stated his background was more screenplay-based and that he learned more about the page turn from watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (created by Joss Whedon) and reading Alex Cross books (by James Patterson) than anything else. “It’s all about what happened or what happens next.”

Asher pointed out that his novel, 13 REASONS WHY, had a plot-driven suspense, while Chbosky’s PERKS was more character-driven suspense. Chbosky Jay Asher picstated that he wanted the reader looking in the wrong direction so he waited to introduce elements to allow the reader to make assumptions or ask questions. Take Charlie’s teacher, for instance. He waited to introduce the teacher’s girlfriend to allow the reader to question the teacher’s motives towards Charlie. What’s the relationship here? Is the teacher gay? What’s going to happen to Charlie?

Asher added to this with a quote from Stephen King: “Making the reader guess.” Involving the reader in solving the mystery – making them guess the clues – keeps them reading, keeps them excited. As Asher was writing his book, he was thinking of how he was going to get the reader to guess the clues.

Chbosky said, “And that’s why he’s (Asher’s) so great. He’s making us write his books as we go along.”

Asher said another way to keep the reader turning the page is to write as clean as possible. He wrote 13 REASONS WHY so that the reader would not be able to put it down. He was afraid if they did, they would stop reading it. So, he kept the chapters short, with each leading into the next, and he created micro-mysteries that kept the suspense building along the way that did not allow the reader to come out of the story. He even made his character names easy to pronounce so readers wouldn’t stumble over them as they read.

Chbosky discussed that one of Charlie’s micro-mysteries is what’s going to happen with the sister when she gets hit and Charlie is asked not to tell. Chbosky stated that it’s important to get your readers invested in the well-being of every character. “If you can make your readers care about all of your characters – from the biggest to the smallest – that’s a major accomplishment.”

Moving on to Chbosky’s keynote, he started by pronouncing that, “The next generation of classics are literally in this room.”

He discussed the rejections he received for PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. It took him 70 pages of writing awful stuff, just to get a fantastic title. As he was writing this awful beginning that wasn’t working, he asked out loud, “Why?” The answer he heard in his head was, “Guess that’s what happens when you’re a wallflower.” He scrapped everything, but the title and started again.

This was the first step in his journey to writing a timeless classic. There are three steps to follow:

  1. Find your Great Idea – He discussed how creative types have difficulty recognizing what’s beautiful or transcendent in themselves. How we as writers don’t always recognize the great ideas we have inside us. That’s why when you’re trying to find your great story, you should write down every idea you have and then share that list of ideas with the people closest to you, who genuinely want you to succeed. Everyone who reads the list will gravitate towards one or two ideas.
  2. Find the Right Genre – There’s one that fits you and your story. Don’t worry about what’s popular. Find what matches your need to tell your great idea.
  3. Study the Classics – Do this to spur you on, to challenge yourself. Because, what the hell, you’re gonna die; you might as well go for it.

Besides these three rules, he encouraged everyone to live a life that challenges you every single day. Find what’s beautiful in yourself. Find the story you’re meant to write. He calls it, “Fuck the market.”

Then take the time to make it great. “There’s no such thing as writer’s block; you’re just editing too early.”

He ended with this: “Books change lives. Books save lives. Books change the world.”

I had an opportunity to meet with Stephen Chbosky shortly after his keynote and have him sign his book for me. He was charming and dynamic. And told me a short, self-deprecating anecdote about having to give a speech shortly after President Clinton at an awards ceremony where he didn’t come off as well. Nothing intimidating about that situation.  His speech was amazing and made us feel, if just for a moment, like we were all infinite.

And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was accepting an award right after Bill Clinton spoke - "Yeah I wasn't as good."

Learn more about Stephen Chbosky here.

Follow Stephen on Twitter here.

My Top Five Things for Friday – a TGNA Post

tgnahead

It’s my turn to post over at the newly relaunched group blog, The Great Noveling Adventure. Since we now have set themes for each day, this is List of 5 Friday. I decided to give everyone a sneak peak at my top five favorite things I learned from the SCBWI LA Summer Conference. For those of you following along with my series of posts here, it’s a nice preview into some of the things I’ll be sharing more in-depth on this blog, coming very soon.

TweetDon’t forget that I’m also hosting AM #sprints every weekday morning on Twitter @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get started or if you just need some companionship as you work on your own great novel.

What I Learned at the SCBWI LA Conference – Part 2 Editors Discuss What Books Need and What They Don’t

scbwi la banner 2014

 

There was a very lively Editors’ Panel this year, and the discussion was all about what you should have in your manuscript and what you shouldn’t. The dynamic panel included:

Alessandra Balzer, VP and Co-Publisher at Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

Mary Lee Donovan, Editorial Director at Candlewick Press

Allyn Johnston, VP and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, a San Diego-based imprint of Simon & Schuster

Wendy Loggia, Executive Editor at Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books

Lucia Monfried, Senior Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers

Dinah Stevenson, VP and Publisher of Clarion Books, a small imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Julie Strauss Gabel, VP and Publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers

 

Editors Panel w/Lin Oliver moderating. Pic from Official SCBWI Conference Blog
Editors Panel w/Lin Oliver moderating. Pic from Official SCBWI Conference Blog

 

 

The first question addressed to the panel asked for one good thing they looked for in a manuscript.

Overwhelmingly, the answer was voice.

Mary Lee Donovan expanded on this: Voice is what you bring to your manuscript automatically. Don’t try to imitate, or echo another writer or style. Make sure you are writing authentically as yourself so your voice comes through. “If you are writing authentically, you are writing in your voice.”

Allyn Johnston added that she wanted the unexpected; something that gives her goosebumps. And no elaborate cover letters, for her. She would rather you spend more time developing your manuscript.

Lucia Monfried said, “Originality. It’s a rare quality that grabs you.”

Dinah Stevenson said she’d like to see a beginning, “Not only an invitation into the story, but something that contains the seeds of the ending, so it sets up a satisfying journey.”

Julie Strauss Gabel echoed the importance of voice, and then mentioned for her personally, she’s very attentive to fit. As in fit for her imprint and for her as an editor. And she said this isn’t just a surface fit, it’s about that unique one-on-one relationship. Never write to general masses or trends. From your voice to your manuscript, you have to be able to stand by it. “I’m looking for something I can champion.”

Others echoed this and the importance of diligent research before submitting. Suggesting writers look over editors’ lists, read interviews, and find other useful information that is available on the internet.

Alessandra Balzar, Mary Lee Donovan, and Allyn Johnston. (pic from Official SCBWI conference Blog)
Alessandra Balzer, Mary Lee Donovan, and Allyn Johnston. (pic from Official SCBWI conference Blog)

 

Second question asked editors to discuss things they did not want to see in manuscript submissions.

Allyn Johnston said, “Don’t be weird.”  Don’t send your manuscript inside a green plastic fish (which she held up for all to see) or with a satin eye patch.

Boring manuscripts was another common theme.

Alessandra Bray added that she sees some writers, in an effort not to be boring, overload the start their manuscript with so much action or sex drama that it is overwhelming. She suggested we as writers should, “introduce us to your characters” and leave out the “dark and stormy night bits”.

Wendy Loggia gave this insight on how to know if you have a boring manuscript: If only you get excited about your work, it’s probably boring. When you practice pitches, if others show interest, that’s good. If not, that’s bad.

Julie Strauss Gabel added that If she doesn’t get engaged or see the voice or if it’s pedestrian, she’s out. She then said that the very best stories come from very personal places. Always think about why this story has to be told.

Allyn Johnston, Wendy Loggia, and Lucia Monfried (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)
Allyn Johnston, Wendy Loggia, and Lucia Monfried (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)
Dinah Stevenson and Julie Strauss Gabel (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)
Dinah Stevenson and Julie Strauss Gabel (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Third question asked each editor to discuss what they looked for in a fresh, snappy manuscript.

Many reflected on ideas of craftsmanship and dealing with a writer who understood story structure. An emphasis on educating ourselves as writers was expressed over and over. Too many manuscripts come in that read like first drafts. Writers are not taking enough time to edit.

Lucia Monfried stated, ” There’s no speeding up how to get better as writers. Take your time; learn your craft.”

Dinah Stevenson said that a manuscript screams out first draft when a writer has thrown in everything and the kitchen sink. “Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”

Wendy Loggia added that she looks at the overall structure of the manuscript. Paragraph structure, sentence breaks, chapter endings, etc. “I love to step in and make suggestions, but it’s great when I can tell that a writer has an idea of how they want the manuscript to look.”

Allyn Johnston said, “When I’m in the hands of a professional, I can relax.” She then shared a quote from Mem Fox to share what she’s looking for: “When the emotional temperature of the reader has changed through the experience.”

Julie Strauss Gabel expressed ‘sharability’ as something she looks for. “Word of mouth is the key to this business. We’re here because we care about who is going to read this book.”

Alessandra Balzar said she wanted to see a hook – that thing that makes a manuscript fresh, unique. “What hook really means is the ability for the book to stand out.” What’s going to make someone say, ‘Oh, you have to read this book.’ – and that book is yours?”

Allyn Johnston and Mary Lee Donovan both commented on wanting books that fulfilled this golden moment when they become a reader. When they let go of the editor part of themselves and just enjoy the story. That is the golden moment and that’s when they know they’ve found something special.

Overall, a fabulous panel with lots of great insights and pearls of wisdom from these experts in the field of publishing.

 

 

 

 

What I Learned at the SCBWI LA Conference – Part 1 Meg Rosoff, the Queen of Weird and Champion of the Imagination

scbwi la banner 2014

 

This week has been incredibly busy with the relaunch of my group blog, The Great Noveling Adventure, and hosting all those AM writing sprints, but what fun! I’m going to continue doing them as it gets me up and writing every day. I didn’t want September to start without beginning my LA conference recap posts, so here’s the first one. I had hoped to bring back some extra signed copies of some books, but due to another sold-out conference, this one with record-breaking attendance, the bookstore was pretty picked over by the time I got around to it. Still, I think I may just have something up my sleeve to give away later in the month.

MEG ROSOFF SPEAKS ON IMAGINATION

mr_pic4_large-266x199

Meg Rosoff, author of Printz Award book HOW I LIVE NOW and THERE IS NO DOG, opened the conference with her keynote entitled “Warning: Peter Rabbit May be Hazardous to Your Health” where she discussed how some psychologists and other “experts” were telling parents not to allow their children to read fairy tales. Why? Because fairy tales were dangerous.

Yes, dangerous.

They teach children an unrealistic view of the world. She quoted from an unnerving number of sources, which stated things like this jewel of wisdom:

“Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it’s statistically too improbable.”(This was from a Telegraph article.)

Who can argue with such logic?

In Rosoff’s opinion, they were all missing the point. Imagination is not a dangerous thing for a child to develop, in fact, it is essential. To prove her point, she began her talk with a retelling of GOLIDLOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS and she gave it a realistic bent, as these experts would have us do.

(Me paraphrasing extensively.) She entered a house, actually it was a cave. And instead of finding three bowls of porridge what she actually found were three rotting rabbit carcasses. “This is disgusting,” she said.

She went to lie down after this, but instead of beds, there were piles of leaves mixed with bear excrement. When the bears came home, they growled at her – “if they could speak a language, it would probably be French-Canadian” – and then they disemboweled her and ate her.

The End.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy. And quite nauseating, to boot. But hey, it’s more realistic, and according to the “experts”. exactly what children, today, need in their stories. Can you imagine a childhood devoid of imagination? A world where children grow up learning only to think in rational ways? THAT is a truly terrifying tale.

When her own child went off to college and shared fears of not being as good or as smart as the other kids in the physics department, how_i_live_now_3-125x200this is what Meg said to her:

“You may not ever be a genius, but you read books. You know about plot, character, stories. You know about letting your unconscious mind follow things to new conclusions. Reading books strengthens imagination and lateral thinking. A good scientist needs imagination. Reading books may even make you a GREAT scientist.”

Imagination is essential to great thinkers, to creative minds. It’s not something one should outgrow or overcome.

“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”

Reading about the fantastical, the improbable, allows kids to imagine the what ifs. It’s our job as writers is to try to understand the world and take risks to write the strongest, fiercest, most subversive tales. This means not being afraid to engage with the darker parts of ourselves. That’s where some of the really important stuff can happen. Break the rules, be subversive. Write a book no one else may want to read.

In one review after her second book, it said, “Meg Rosoff is the queen of weird.” She took it as a compliment.

“Imagination is very dangerous. It can change the world. And that’s why we write.”

Learn more about Meg Rosoff here.

Follow Meg on Twitter here.