Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Metro Cards

I have my two Metro cards tucked in my wallet--one for the city I'm leaving behind and the other for the city I'm heading for. I'm trading monuments and the Potomac for skyscrapers and the Hudson. At least for a little while.

The SCBWI 2011 Winter Conference is almost here. In the next few days I'll get to see old friends from all over the country who share my passion for Children's lit. My days will be filled with bookstores and book talks and book signings. I get to learn about picture books and making kids laugh and market trends and writing technique.

Those two Metro cards I keep close at hand give me access to so much more than public transportation. They connect me to the the literary world I love.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Whitest View

I got to sit in this for three hours because of the snow in D.C. At least I had the chance to listen to Neil Gaiman read Odd and the Frost Giants, which made half the commute extremely pleasant. I wish I could have gotten a clear shot from a rise so you could see the red lights mixed with the glittering white for miles.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Local Authors Rock, or This One's for You, Lucy Wu

As I've said before (and will probably say again), I love reading books where I see names and places I know and love. But what I love even more is reading a book where I get that plus it makes me laugh and cry and everything in between. The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by debut author Wendy Wan-Long Shang has it all.

I may not be Chines, and baseball is way better than basketball, but I know just what it's like to be Lucy. Lucy is the every-girl. Feel the black sheep of the family? Feel like you'll never live up to everyone's expectations? Feel lost in your own skin? Feel like no matter how hard you try, things never go your way? Well, Lucy can tell you all about it. And maybe, just maybe, she can also tell you how even when things are going terribly wrong, they always have a way of turning out right in the end.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Five: A Bundle of Book News

Most of the people who read this blog fall into one of two categories. The first are those who know me and want to find out what's going on in my life. The second are those who love books and come here looking for book recommendations. For the people in the first group, you might not think this post is about my life, but I assure you I have spent more time contemplating these issues than anything else in my life this week (with the possible exception of my not-so-internal grad school debate). For the second group, much of this will be old news though maybe you'll be happy to see someone else cares just as much as you do. And for those of you who fall into both categories, well, that's why you're my best friends in the world.

1. ALA Youth Media Awards: I could not have been more excited for the authors honored by the ALA. This year, more than any year I can remember, the awards reflect a great cross-section on literary works for children that highlight the skill of writers and the diversity of readers. I was, however, disappointed not to see Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos on the nonfiction list. But the Quick Picks almost made up for it by listing several of my favorite QPs.

2. Today Show Snub: My exhilaration was quickly followed by great frustration when those well-deserving winners were cut from the Today Show's usual coverage. We wonder why children aren't reading and media is taking over the lives of our children. Umm...maybe it's because we aren't setting a very good example for them. Maybe it's because we aren't instilling within them a love of books anymore. We should be ashamed of our selves that Snooki, a character who will be forgotten sooner than her tan fades, takes precedence over characters who will be a part of the literary world for more than a hundred years to come. Oh, yeah, and the 90-second Newbery videos being made as a form of protest are kind of hysterical.

3. Copyright Violations: This has not always been an issue I much cared about. But as I've gotten older, learned more about intellectual property and experienced first-hand the frustration of breaking into the publishing industry, this topic infuriates me. People, go to the library! Spend $20 on a book rather than a movie! Find a book exchange! Learn to live without a book! But for heaven sakes, don't steal from a poor author by ripping their books online, no matter how unfair you think the pricing is. Find another way to communicate your frustrations, but don't illegally download books just because you feel you are entitled to the content. Because you're not! The only person who's entitled to that content--legally, ethically and morally--is the author who created it.

4. Sad News from Lisa Madigan: It's not every day you hear a contemporary author so openly address her own mortality. Fortunately, Lisa Madigan exhibits a grace and internal strength that is far from common. A friend going through a mastectomy recently wrote her friends: "I knew I wanted to share this journey with you and not only it would allow others to cry with me but it would allow others to pray for me, to fast for me and to comfort me. Thank you so much for your prayers, for your tears and for your faith!" I thank Lisa for doing the same, and I hope her fans and the writing community will give her the same support my friend is feeling.

5. Comic Books, Poetry and Mark Twain: I think it's funny that stories on all these subjects are currently floating around the blog-o-sphere. I can't tell you how many people tell me they don't get comic books, they can't stand reading poetry, and they hope never to have to pick up another "classic" book again. But the truth is, our lives are richer for all of these types of creative works. They expand our horizons, give us commonality and at least provide us with a medium we love to hate.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Great Grad School Debate

This fall I'm applying to four Children's Lit master's programs. I've never applied for grad school before, and I didn't think I'd be doing it for another six years. But recent events in my life have made me realize this is something I want for myself now. I want to be a better writer. I want to be surrounded by people who share my passion. I want to carve out a future for myself in the literary world.

I feel like a high school senior all over again.

The New School--Realistically, The New School MFA program is a pie-in-the-sky dream for me. To be able to move to NYC and study with amazing contemporary YA writers like David Levithan would be a dream come true. But then there's this little set-back about quitting my job and moving to NYC. What a terrifying thought!

The other three programs I'm looking into are low-residency, which means I'd be able to work full time, take correspondence classes and only take about a month off for summer workshops.

Hollins University--The MA program (all of the others are MFAs) at Hollins has the benefit of being both close to home and combining creative writing with literary studies. I'd also have the opportunity to spend a summer in the United Kingdom to do the research on Peter Pan I've been wanting to do for years (not that I'm obsessed with the topics in Peter Pan or anything).

Vermont College--There's a comfort in knowing a lot of my friends have graduated from Vermont College's MFA program. A lot of big names have gone through this program, which, at the risk of sounding like a total fan-girl, is totally exciting. It's a strong program with a proven record, and even the reading lists they have posted on there website get me excited to attend. But it's the school that's furthest away from home, which of course complicates things.

Spalding University--I've read about Spalding, heard graduates speak on panels and read all there prospective student materials, and it sounds like a great school. But unlike all of the other programs, I don't personally know anyone who has ever attended. So if you're reading this post and you're a Spalding fan, what makes you love this school? Because I want to be in love with it, too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Prepping for SCBWI Conference(s)

Conferences are a great way to learn about the craft, hear about new publishing trends and bask in the comfort of like-minded writers. Most importantly, they get me excited to work a little harder and do a little better. I'm getting really excited about the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC, mostly because I keep reading interviews with authors I can't wait to hear speak over at Alice Pope's blog. I've also been contacting some old friends to see if they'll be there so we can meet up and chat--it's been a long time since of seen many of them who are still out in Illinois and Utah and a few who have moved away from D.C.

This conference, there are a few issues I'm planning to talk to people about:
  1. The Master's Debate: Would an MA or MFA be beneficial to my career and help me develop as a writer? Are there other ways I can accomplish the same type of development? Is it a fiscally responsible endeavor? What kind of scholarships/grants/fellowships are available?
  2. Anything But a Novel: What are other forms of writing I can break into? With lagging print sales, are there still opportunities in magazine writing? Ghost writing and series writing seems like a great idea, but how does might it affect my personal writing?
  3. Writers' (Support) Groups: How can I most effectively utilize my writers' group? What kinds of questions should we be asking each other, and how can we help encourage group members while still giving an effective critique? Is there such a thing as too much work-shopping?

I figure if I'm going to be standing in a room with some of the greatest minds in children's publishing, I'd better have something to talk to them about. Whether it acts as an ice-breaker when I find myself sitting at a lunch table with a NYT best-selling author or an agent opens the floor for questions after a presentation, I want to have something to talk to them about. Of course, I'll probably end up talking to them about audiobooks or Matt Damon. Not that those weren't some great conversations. There are also a few people whom I consider friends and mentors who will be there, and I want their feedback, especially on the master's issue.

My part in planning for the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference has also crept up on me. It's not until the fall, but I have my first planning meeting this weekend. Yes, six months before our regional conference we are having a planning meeting, not about speakers or caterers or manuscript critiques, which people have been working on for a year or more now, but about setting up technology (e.g. projector, microphones). I cannot believe the kind of effort that goes into these meetings. My respect for the people who do this year after year just like tripled.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Roll for Initiative

Hello, my name is Kathryn, and I'm a Girl Gamer.

I know how nerdy it sounds, but I love becoming a character. I love participating in plays and skits. I love those dinner party mysteries where you try to find the killer. And I especially love Dungeons and Dragons.

(Yes, this is my character--a Watersoul Genasi Warlord. I illustrated her while I was stuck in various airports over the break.)

There's something about becoming something different--becoming something more than myself--that I enjoy about D&D. It's fun interacting with other people to face unexpected adventures. It stretches me to use my imagination, to think critically, to react creatively. While it might all be pretend, it changes who I am in the real world.

Reading does the same thing. Good books introduce us to people we would never meet on our own. They help us understand people on a more intimate level. They make us realize that we can become something more than ourselves.

This weekend we started our new campaign. Over the next few months, we'll fight demons and evil warlords. We'll save damsels in distress and rescue cities from pirates. We'll sail dangerous seas and face nightmarish monsters. And we'll do it all from the safety of Gordon's living room while eating pizza and drinking Mr. Pibb.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Transitioning from YA to Adult Books

After spending years reading young adult fiction, moving on to adult fiction can be hard. While the classics they make you read in school are great books, sometimes you just want to read a contemporary author you like. But don't be fooled: Just because an author writes best-selling adult books does not guarantee their YA books will be worth reading, and often times, YA authors who venture into main-stream fiction fall flat. But knowing authors who bridge the gap between YA and mainstream fiction can make the process a little less intimidating.

Nick Hornby: One of the greatest contemporary writers of our time, Hornby's books are powerful and gritty, emotional and exposing. Unfortunately, his YA book just can't compare to his novels for adults.
Carl Hiaasen: Probably the most sardonic writers I have ever come across, Hiaasen is the watch-dog for the Florida Everglades, both in his fiction and his columns for the Miami Harold. And where his adult fiction has become formulaic over the years, his children's writing is just taking off.
Meg Cabot: No one can crank them out like Cabot. From middle grade to YA to adults, you will consistently have a new book to read every year no matter how old you get. Well, at least until she stops writing, which will probably be beyond the grave.
Ann Brashares: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants has been hard to live up to, but Brashares is branching out and writing for more diverse ages. Her stories are bitter-sweet without being overly sappy, which I tend to like.
Shannon Hale: Hale has award-wining, NYT-bestselling books for every age group. But honestly, her books for adults just don't compare to her witty, moving and adventurous fairytale retellings for young readers.
Stephenie Meyer: I know some people will criticize me for including Meyer on this list, but let's be honest, she's done more for cross-over literature than anyone save J.K. Rowling, and J.K. Rowling has never published anything specifically for adults.
Kelley Armstrong: I could also included P.C. Cast, Richelle Mead or about a dozen other paranormal romance authors--they all tend to sell well in both markets. Though I think Armstrong's teen characters are a little underdeveloped, I like that she's branched out into thriller novels.
Maria V. Snyder: Who would have guessed a meteorologist could write this well. Snyder's books are imaginative and beautiful with the perfect mix of romance and adventure.
Carrie Vaughn: A relatively new voice in publishing, Vaughn has been popping up everywhere in the past couple of years. She's just getting started in the YA market, but if the success of her adult books is any kind of indicator, she has many great YA books to come.
Orson Scott Card: He's lost some consistency with his writing, but Ender's Game puts and keeps him on this list. It is a regular part of sci-fi curriculum (especially in high schools), and he continues to expand Ender's universe as well as add new worlds to the mix.
Brandon Sanderson: Like Vaugn, Sanderson kind of burst onto the publishing scene with unrelenting success. His big break came when he was contracted to complete the Wheel of Time Series, but his personal body of work speaks for itself.
Neil Gaiman: I would be a fool not to include Gaiman on this list. He's won the Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. He is what every author wishes they could be: diversified, talented and successful.
Terry Pratchett: Like with the paranormal romance authors, I know there are a lot more cross-over fantasy authors, but I think you get the point. Plus, Pratchett and Gainman kind of end this list on a high note.

A honorary mention should go to both C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia/The Screwtape Letters) and J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings). While there are many other authors out there who have published for both children and adults, I wanted to fill this list with authors who have current publishing contracts in both markets.