What I read on my travels

As usual I’m not going to mention the books that I didn’t like because I don’t want the authors to hunt me down and kill me.1 Writers are scary people.

I’m still on a bit of a crime binge. And have been reading a scary amount of adult books. Who’d’ve thunk there was some good books over on those shelves? Colour me, shocked.

So here are the novels:

  • The final book in Denise Mina‘s Garrnethill trilogy, Resolution, was every bit as good as the other two. I have a major writing crush on Mina. She’s amazing. I love the way she writes. I love it so much, in fact, that I typed out an entire chapter of Exile so I could figure out how she did the very cool thing that she did in that particular chapter. I’ve yet to read a book of hers that wasn’t pure genius. I also like the warmth with which she portrays her characters. Even the total shitheads. Set in a very bleak dark Glasgow. Left me feeling hopeful despite the subject matter. (Adult, crime.)
  • Clockers by Richard Price. This is a brilliant book. Astonishingly so. Richard Price can write. Some of his sentences made me cry they were so perfect. And yet . . . And yet I did not love it as much as I wanted to. There are two protags and I did not like either of them. Though Strike is definitely less repellent than Rocco. Though that wasn’t it either. Because there are lots of books I love that have wholly repellent protags. Hmmm. I’ll prolly have to read it again to figure out what my problem is. It’s my problem though not the book’s. Clockers truly is amazing. (Adult, crime.)
  • We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Speaking of books with repellent protags—the narrator of this book is completely unlikable. She’s self-obsessed, self-serving, unreliable, a racist, an elitist. I would go so far as to say that I hated her. And yet I loved this book. It did not leave me cold the way Clockers did. Along with The Man in the Basement by Walter Mosley this is the best meditation on evil that I have read in a long long time. Plus it’s a bad seed novel. And I adore bad seed novels. Shriver totally deserves all the accolades and prizes this book as won. Do not read this book if you’re thinking about having kids. It will put you right off. (Adult, crime—though I believe it gets classified as Literature, but it is a pure crime novel.)
  • Double Fault by Lionel Shriver. See? Immediately after finishing Kevin I had to read more Shriver. I didn’t like anyone in this book either. And yet, once again, I loved it. Shriver totally reminds me of Patricia Highsmith. They have the same bleak, unblinking gimlet eye. As they write it we all have something to hide, we are all complicit and selfish and incapable of happiness. This book is the anatomy of a marriage between two tennis players. Reportedly she based it on her own relationship to another writer. Wow. That must have been the most fun couple ever. Like Highsmith I highly recommend that you don’t read too many of her books in a row. Otherwise you’ll start thinking poorly of everyone. (Adult, not crime although it sure felt like it.)
  • No Place Safe by Kim Reid. A memoir about the Atlanata child murders from the point of view of a young girl who lives smack dab in the middle of where the children are disappearing and being murdered whose mother is one of the investigating officers. It took me awhile to warm to this one because I kept comparing to Tayari Jones‘s astonishing novel about the same events, Leaving Atlanta. It’s not a fair comparison. Tayari Jones is one of the best novelists in the US and Leaving Atlanta is stunning. But it’s also a novel and while No Place Safe uses some novelistic techniques it’s not—it’s shape is constrained by the real events in retells. Those events are chilling. If that many white children were being killed no way would it have taken so long to start a proper investigation. The crimes remain unsolved. (Adult, memoir.)

Manhwa and manga read on the Queen Mary 2:

  • Bride of the Water God Vol. 2 by Mi-Kyung Yun. You know, I’m not entirely clear on what’s going on in this one but it’s so gorgeous I don’t care. There are gods. There is a human sacrifice who isn’t killed and lots of really gorgeous art. (Mythological Korea.)
  • Line by Yua Kotegawa. Didn’t like this one as much as her four volume Anne Freaks. It wasn’t as dark or disturbing, but still worth checking out. Well, not if you don’t want to read about about mass youth suicides. (Contemporary Japan.)
  • Emma Vol 7 by Kaoru Mori. I would have read this A LOT slower if I’d realised it was the last volume. Only seven volumes!? Mori hates me, doesn’t she? How can I go through life not knowing more about Emma’s life? How? Highly, highly recommended. This is so romantic. It’s reminds me very strongly of Brief Encounter but without the incredibly annoying—I was going to say ending, but the middle and beginning drive me crazy too. It’s also gorgeously drawn. One of the many things I love about this series is how light on text it is. Some of the most moving sequences happen with no words at all. I can’t wait to sit down and read all seven volumes back to back. (Victorian England.)
  • Monster Vols. 12-14 by Naoki Urasawa. Speaking of bad seed narratives—Monster is a beaut. I especially love how rarely you see the Monster and yet he spurs almost everything that takes place. Tense, unputdownable, and every volume introduces some new strand or character or complication. Yes, the female characters are a bit same-ish. Don’t care. Love it. (Contemporary(ish) Europe.)
  • The more manga, manhwa and graphic novels I read the more I want to write some of my own.

Have any of you read any of these? What did you think?

  1. Or their family and agents. []

Deadlines, polls, a question answered etc

My deadline is still not met. Many obstacles keep piling up to keep me from it. I will not list them all since they are boring as well as annoying but one of them involves my webmistress duties.

Until the deadline is vanquished there will be only sketchy posting here. I will also continue to not answer email, the phone, courier pigeons, or smoke signals. Sorry! Though if you do hear from me and I haven’t achieved deadline vanquishment you should yell at me to get back to work.

I will try to put up an occasional poll so you don’t all die of boredom. Feel free to complain about them in the comments. Yes, I am referring to you, Mr Eric Luper. Which reminds me to mention that I can see when someone votes from multiple machines. Nice try, Eric. Your jerboas still lost despite half their votes coming from you!

The latest poll may reflect this Aussie girl’s state of mind on finding herself far from home not long after a momentous election in weather colder than anything she ever experienced at home in Sydney. I would sell my left knee to have a meal at Spice I Am right now . . .

Regarding the previous post some people wanted to know whether not having an oven is de rigeur in New York City. I have seen flats here that have no kitchen at all and yet I still believe most flats in New York City come equipped with ovens. However, some of those do not work. One such is the oven in this flat. The oven does not work, nor does the grill, but three of the burners on the cook top function. (Mostly.) I suspect this may be typical of New York City flats . . .

For those who are annoyed that my “How To Rewrite” post still hasn’t gone up. A quick tip: when thinking about structure some writers find Shakespeare’s five acts the way to go. Or you could try the standard Hollywood three-act model. Or you could just wing it.

For those annoyed that I haven’t written about manga lately. I endorse The Drifting Classroom.

Magic or Madness turns Japanese

Guess what? The entire Magic or Madness trilogy just sold to the Japanese publisher, Hayakawa Shobo. That’s right! I’m going to be in Japanese! I can’t tell you how over the moon I am. Woo hooo!!!

Ever since I first heard about the whole foreign-rights thing there were two languages I’ve been desperate to be translated into: Spanish (cause I speak it un poco) and Japanese on account of my Japan obsession (oh, okay, mostly Kurosawa movies, Kimba, and now manga).

I screamed when I got the email. And started entertaining fantasies of a manga adaption following on from the straight translation. How cool would that be?

Now we just need to get a Spanish-language publisher to pick up the books and my life will be complete. For the record this is the ninth country that has bought the trilogy and the seventh language other than English.

I love being a writer. Especially when cool stuff happens without my lifting a finger. Bliss! Thank you, Whitney Lee, for all your hard work. You are the very best!

The first book shop event

Last night we went to Anderson’s books in Naperville, Illinois. Much fun was had. Scott explained the origins of the Uglies series and of Extras. The first is all about our society’s beauty obsession; the second deals with the fame thing. There was lots of Q & A. The questions were ridiculously smart and interesting and there didn’t seem to be a single person who hadn’t read at least three or four of Scott’s books so he didn’t have to worry too much about spoilers.

Scott raises his hand. Dunno why.

During the hours and hours that he was signing for the smart and very appreciative crowd I got to hang out with some fabulous folk who were readers of my books and/or blog. At least three librarians came up to tell me how much they and their patrons enjoy my books. Yes!

I had a blast gossiping about favourite books, which is, naturally, my favourite topic of conversation ever. I was totally stoked to discover that my raving about the genius of Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia trilogy had influenced some people to pick the books up and read them. Yay!1 Also I found someone who loved Meredith Anne Pierce as much as I do!2 Double yay!

Jez and friends

The photo is of Jez and her friends (whose names I’ve forgotten—sorry!) Thanks so much for all the manga recommendations. You guys are fabulous.

I wish I could remember everyone’s name. The folks I talked to were all so wonderful, but the only people I got a chance to say goodbye to were Jez and her friends. Sorry about that! Was wonderful meeting you all.

  1. If you haven’t read them yet what are you waiting for? Go get them! []
  2. And if you haven’t read the Darkangel trilogy and you love vampires then I don’t know what you’ve been doing all your life! []

Cross-dressing girls

I recently had a conversation with Oyceter about the conventions of romance in which I confessed that I love books where a girl has to pass as a boy. I’ve loved them ever since I was little. The book that set me off was These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer.

I don’t think the appeal of these books is mysterious. First of all, almost all of the books I loved were historicals. Most were (in one way or another) about how constrained the girls’ lives were. About all the things they couldn’t do and all the things they had to do, like marrying someone erky just because their father ordered them to. So for a girl character to be able to run around and get into sword fights she pretty much had to pretend to be a boy. I adored girls getting to have as much fun as the boys. It beat reading the books about boys’ adventures and pretending to myself that they were secretly girls. I always hated the books where the girl characters were only there to be rescued. I still do.

And not only does the convention allow for girls to do boy stuff it leads to also sorts of excellent misunderstandings. There’s a reason Twelfth Night is my favourite Shakespeare.

Holly Black and I once bonded over how much we love girls-passing-as-boys books. And now I know Oyceter loves them too. What about you guys? What are your favourite examples? I’ve just started reading Hana-Kimi and am enjoying it greatly.

Series

A warning: this is one of those stumbly thinking out loud posts.

I just read a dead interesting essay by Jim Huang reflecting on twenty years of selling books. Most of his comments have to do with mystery books but a lot of it applies to other genres. I’ve been thinking about this comment:

When I think about the center of gravity of the mystery genre, I still believe that it lies in series. Seventy percent of the titles on the bestsellers lists of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association in 2007 year to date are part of a series. Seventy percent of these series titles belong to long-running series of five or more books. Sales in IMBA member stores are not necessarily representative of the marketplace in general, but they are the best indication we have of what the most devoted mystery lovers are looking for. Yet you can in fact generalize from these numbers. When you look at the BookScan mystery bestseller list for the week of 8/12/07, representing sales throughout the industry, you see that over 70%—closer to 80%, actually—of these bestselling titles also belong to series.

While not to that extent, Young Adult, is also dominated by series books: from Nancy Drew to Harry Potter through to the Gossip Girls. There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had from following the adventures of the same characters over multiple books and huge sales prove that I’m not alone in thinking so.

I know I have whinged about the trickiness of writing a trilogy, which is just a shorter series, but as a devourer of story I am all about the arc plot. In fact, lately I’ve kind of lost interest in movies and am much more into television precisely because it’s all arc. Right now we’re working our way through Homicide: Life on the Streets (which Scott had never seen!) and the first season of Heroes (anyone spoils me I kill them) having already screamed through American Gothic and the first three series of The Wire, there being no more Rome or Deadwood to be had.

I’m also gobbling manga by the truckload—my current obsession being Hikaru no go and Hellsing. I love them! But it’s also frustrating. Like right now I’m missing volume 6 of Hikaru. I have 7-10 waiting for me but no 6. And when I have all of the available volumes, I’m waiting on the next ones. Where is Nana 7? Emma 5? ES (Eternal Sabbath) 6? Hellsing 9? Her Majesty’s Dog 7? Monster 11? Mushishi 3? Waaaah!!!

But that’s nothing compared to the kinds of problems readers of mysteries have. Huang writes:

Series matter, and what publishers do with them tells you a lot about their inclinations and abilities. I write a lot about series and the bad job that the most publishers do with them: not keeping books in print (especially the first book which is where readers want to start), not clearly indicating the order of books in series, not identifying books as part of a series, not packaging series titles with a common look to make it easier to find them on new releases tables, not timing publication of new hardcovers and paperbacks to maximize sales, not indicating for the benefit of buyers for stores a new title’s place in the series, not soliciting orders for series backlist and frontlist together, not waiting months (if not years) between UK and US publication, etc.

I’ve definitely seen this happening a lot in sf and fantasy publishing but less so in YA. I wonder if that’s because YA books tend to stay on the shelves longer? Or maybe my anecdotal evidence is dodgy and it happens in YA too. Whatever. I will never understand how publishers allow book 1 of a series to go out of print while books 2, 3, 4 etc are still in print.

The first volume is always the biggest seller of a series because every time a new volume comes out it kickstarts fresh sales for the first volume. I’ve had several people write me to say that they bought Magic or Madness when Magic Lessons or Magic’s Child came out because the appearance of the later books reminded them about the series and also meant they could by the first book in paperback. My sales figures show the sales of Magic or Madness going up on the publication of the other two books.

On a much bigger scale that’s what happened with each book in Scott’s Uglies series. So much so that books two and three made it on to the New York Times bestseller list more than a year after first publcation. It will be interesting to see what happens when the fourth book comes out next month.

Obviously, the first volume of a bestselling series like Scott’s won’t be allowed to go out of print, but why publish the third book in a lesser selling series if the first one is no longer available? It minimises sales of all volumes in the series.

I have no idea where I’m going with any of this. Read Jim Huang’s essay!

What I am excited about (short term)

    Spending a whole day at Book Expo America collecting free books & hanging out with my YAers

    Spending a whole day lazing around reading manga

    Getting back to work on my new novel

    The big news that I may get to announce next week

    White chocolate and macadamia bikkies

    Our first New York Liberty game—tomorrow! (the Liberty’s at 3-0)

    Orlin’s fruit plate for brekkie

What’s in your short term future that’s making you smile?

Norton nominee interviews

John Joseph Adams doesn’t quite have the full set (that would be Scott who’s not done his bit—he’s too busy writing Extras) but here are his interviews with the other Norton nominees:

I finally took a break from inhaling manga to inhale Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life as we knew it. Wow. I’ll admit I’m fond of post-apocalypse books to start with, but this is a decidely superior example. I read it in one sitting. Could not put it down. Go forth and read! My only complaint: It’d be nice to read one post-apocylpse where New York City and Sydney were not wiped off the face of the earth. Is that too much to ask?

If I were a SFWA member my head would be exploding trying to figure out which book to vote for. They’re all so good (take it as read that I’m not talking about Magic or Madness). Devilish and Peeps are so funny, Touching Darkness so scary and Life as we knew it made me cry.

But I’m still leaning towards Megan Whalen Turner’s King of Attolia. That trilogy is breath-takingly fabulous. I’ve read the first two books, The Thief and Queen of Attolia, many times and King twice. They get better with every read. I hug them to my chest. I honestly can’t think of a better fantasy trilogy. I really hope it wins.

Manga! Manga! Manga!

So, as mentioned I’ve been reading of the manga and the graphic novels and there has been much joy and bliss and wonder. As usual I don’t mention those what I’ve read and not enjoyed.

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka (Vol. 1)

Fabulous. I don’t have words for how much I loved it. Especially as I put off reading this one for almost a year. And I put it off for the lamest reason imaginable. See, back in the dark ages when I was in primary school one of my scripture teachers gave us all these Jesus comic books to read. They told the story of Jesus, and, well, there is no gentle way to put this: they sucked. The art was unspeakably bad. They were horribly written in a strange ESL English and they were indescribably boring. Seriously they were the worst comic books of all time.

When I was given Buddha, I had a flash back to those bad vile Jesus comic books, and even though the book in my hands had gorgeous artwork, it was still a comic book version of the life of a religious figure, and, I confess, that my heart was filled with dread.

Needlessly.

Buddha is funny, action-packed, moving, the art is gorgeous and Tatta is my new hero. Go forth and read this! I’m convinced that Tezuka can do no wrong.

Her Majesty’s Dragon Dog by Mick Takeuchi (Vols. 1-3)

I don’t want to tell you too much about this. I read it knowing nothing beforehand and it was full of delightful surprises. Kind of a sweet, wry version of Buffy only without vampires.

One of the things I really enjoyed about it and also Nana and Buddha too, now that I think about it, are all the cool, wry, witty authorial asides.

I suspect that I’ve just made a fool of myself in front of the hard-core manga lovers, haven’t I? That’s like a sign of it being manga, isn’t it? Are there any books about the history and development of manga I should be reading? Please to tell. I want to know more!

Monster by Naoki Urasawa (Vols. 1-7)

Wow. Seriously wow. This one seemed to this ignorant reader to owe a lot to Ode to Kirihito. Another doctor hero, lots of surgery scenes, also completely unputdownable. I can’t tell you what agonies I’m in waiting to get my hands on the next few volumes. It hits so many of my buttons, but I can’t say which without major spoilers.

I’d be really happy to discuss all of these in more detail in the comments thread. Just please please please don’t mention anything beyond the volumes I’ve read. And, um, I guess that constitutes a spoiler warning for the comments.

Here’s my big complaint about manga: it’s almost impossible to get hold of the volumes I want. I’ve tried every book shop in NYC trying to get hold of Her Majesty’s Dog vols 4, 5 & 6. And don’t get me started about Buddha. Is there a volume 2, 3, 4 or 5 available on the face of the earth? No, there is not. Lots of 9 and 10s though! Aaaarggghhh!!!!!!!! It drives me completely spare. I need them now. I do not wish to wait. Even stupid Amazon won’t give me more Her Majesty’s. I kick Amazon. I kick NYC book shops. I want more Buddha. And I want it NOW!!!

In short: Manga = good. Not being able to find the vols you want = bad.

What should I write next?

Remember way back when I asked you to help me to decide what to write next? You all told me the fairy book, which I dutifully wrote, but now I’m feeling all indecisive again. Can you help me out?

Here are the options:

  • The great Australian feminist monkey knife-fighting cricket Elvis mangosteen fairy novel . This one is written.
  • The compulsive liar book narrated by a—you guessed it—compulsive liar. Downside: will involve lots of outlining. I hates outlining. Plus it’s going to be so hard! Upside: whenever I mention this one folks get very excited.
  • The beginnings of cricket historical romance. Downside: lots of research and all my cricket history books are in storage in Sydney. Upside: yumminess. I am besotted with my protag and her love interest.
  • The baby killing ghost novel set in Sydney in the late 19th century in which the ghost does not kill babies nor do babies kill ghosts. Downside: research materials all in storage in Sydney. Upside: ghost story!
  • The plastic surgery running away from Hollywood novel. Downside: protag is a USian. I am not USian thus writing it will be really hard. All the sentences in my head are Australian. Upside: Very cool structure that makes me grin just thinking about it.
  • Werewolf snowboarding epic. Downside: I’ve never snowboarded making it tricky describing it plus I’d need to do a lot of research on wolves. Upside: Werewolves snowboarding!
  • Northern Territory multi-family multi-racial lots of killing epic. Downside: yeah, yeah, research materials elsewhere. Plus I’d need to spend at least a few weeks up there again, doing lots of non-book research. Fun but not possible for quite awhile. Upside: I love love love writing epics.
  • Kid who grows up in a Vintage Clothes Shop which her mum runs who can pick the best buys at fifty paces (much more interesting than this description makes it sound—honest!) Downside: I know nothing about the vintage clothes industry works. More bloody research! Upside: clothes, yummy delicous magic clothes.
  • Protag’s father goes missing presumed dead on account of he and protag’s mum very into each other. Mum is forced to take in a lodger to help pay the mortgage. She advertises for a female uni student but takes in a strange youngish man who has no visible means of support and yet pays the rent on time. He’s gorge and speaks a zillion languages but the seventeen-year old girl protag doesn’t trust him. Her twin brothers (eight) almost immediately fall under his sway. I could go on, but it’s just not very pitchable. Alas. Downside: Not very ptichable. Tis one of those books that’s clear in my head but takes months to explain. Sigh. Upside: tis very clear in my head.
  • Try to write a short story. I’ve had a brain wave for completely transforming a story of mine that’s never worked into one that will. It involves making the ending not suck (why did I not think of that before?!) and setting it a couple hundred years ahead of where it’s set now. It involves no research. Downside: I suck at short stories. Upside: Not starting from scratch and may lead to an actual good story. That would be cool!

My agent is most excited about the Liar book on account of its ease of pitchability but she also agrees with the famous children’s book editor, Ursula Nordstrom, who wrote

I never want to forget that if Lewis Carroll had asked me whether or not he should bother writing about a little girl named Alice who fell asleep and dreamed that she had a lot of adventures down a rabbit hole, it would not have sounded awfully tempting to any editor.

The book described before writing it rarely exactly matches the finished book and sometimes doesn’t even come close. And if it did what would be the fun in writing? There’d be no surprises!

I could sit down and start writing any one of these. Yes, heaps need research, but writing first and researching sketchily as you go is fun. I do have the intramanets afterall. And it’s not that long till we’re back in Sydney where I can fill in some of my [did they have spin bowling back then? When did they first call them "googlies"] notes.

But I do not have a burning desire to write any of them at the moment. I do not have a burning desire to write at all. My one burning desire is to continue reading lots of lovely manga . . . But I did say I’d write two novels this year. Sigh.

What’s it to be?

Magic’s Child Screensavers + manga

Now available for your delectation: gorgeous Magic’s Child screensavers complete with animated butterflies. I just tested it and it made me squeal with happiness. It comes in mac and pc flavours. Happy sigh. Thank you, Courtney Wood, for all your hard work!

What better way to celebrate the final book in the Magic or Madness trilogy’s arrival (just eleven more days) then to have pretty butterflies flutter across your computer screen?

And now I will return to my manga binge. I gave myself a much deserved (truly!) holiday: I went out and gathered up armloads of delicious manga and now I’m reading it. Why, oh why, did I only get the first four volumes of Monster?! What was I thinking? Everyone told me it was awesome! I need more. I must have more.

Heh hem. Don’t mind me. I’m off to read more of Her Majesty’s Dog. Mmmmm, manga!

Ode to Kirihito

I’ve been dipping my toe in the worlds of manga and graphic novels over the past year or so. Allow me to express some neophyte enthusiasm: WOW!!! Seriously, I’ve loved the majority of what I’ve read and the stuff I haven’t like that much in the early volumes (I’m looking at you, Saiyuki) has become fabulous later on.

I’m pretty sure the 90% rule1 still applies, I just happen to have very excellent guides (thank you, Micole, Rachel, and Doselle). And Anne Ishii of Vertical Books who led me to Osamu Tezuka‘s Ode to Kirihito, which I loved so much I feel compelled to rave about it here.

Ode to Kirihito is like nothing I’ve ever read before. So much so that I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s a medical thriller, it’s a philosophic musing about what it is to be human, it’s completely unputdownable. That’s saying something because it is a very big book. There are depraved sideshow performers, corrupt doctors, scary small town locals, depraved and corrupt crime lords, nuns, as well as racist mine overseers.

From page to page I had no idea what was going to happen next, but when it did, it made sense. It all worked. More than worked, it sang.

And that’s just the story. The art is something else again.2 Although Ode was first published in the early 1970s if I hadn’t known that I couldn’t have guessed it. The art looks contemporary. More than that it looks cutting edge contemporary. It’s so beautiful that I would stop to just stare at many of the pages. And, trust me, I’m not someone who will stop to smell the roses when I’m as caught up in a story as I was with Ode to Kirihito. It was just so gorgeous I could not soak it up.

You all have to read this book. It is gobsmackingly awesome. And weird. Very very very weird.

I am now going to read the first volume of Tezuka’s Buddha. I must now read everything he has ever written. He is a genius and I am smitten.

  1. Otherwise known as Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety per cent of everything is crap”. []
  2. Not that they’re separable. I know that. I’m just new to this, remember. []

The goddesses of the CCBC

Scott and me were taken out for lunch by the lovely women of the CCBC, Hollis, Katy, Megan and Merri. We talked graphic novels, manga, YA books and censorship and much fun was had.

My favourite moment was Megan or Merri’s (I’m jetlagged and can’t remember which) anecdote about a twelve-year old asking to borrow a newly arrived library book because the cover so appealed to her. The book was M. E. Kerr’s Deliver Us From Evie. Evie of the title is a seventeen-year old lesbian; the girl wanting to borrow the book was from a very conservative rural family. So the school librarian looked at the girl desperately keen to read the book and imagined the outrage that would result when her parents found she had read such a book and hesitated. Is this worth my job? she wondered. But she gave the girl the book because it’s not her job to say what the girl can and can’t read. If the girl’s parents didn’t like it and raised a fuss the librarian would deal with it then.

Sure enough next morning when she got to work there was the girl waiting for her. “I have to talk to you about that book.”

Oh no, thought the librarian. “Well,” she said. “What did you think?”

“It was the best book about farming I’ve read in my entire life. Thank you so much!”

It’s a lovely example of what is so often forgotten in debates about what children and teenagers should and shouldn’t be allowed to read: people don’t always read books in the same way.1 Sometimes kids (and adults) don’t even notice the stuff that is outraging others. Me, I still can’t figure out how Harry Potter encourages Satan worship . . .

I left lunch with many other ace anecdotes about being on the frontlines in the battle against censorship (which I will ruthlessly exploit for Saturday’s panel on Banned & Censored books) as well as lots and lots of reading recommendations. It was very inspiring. Thank you, all. You’re goddesses!

  1. When I was still in primary school I read The Alexandrian Quartet by Alexander Lawrence [I'm jetlagged, okay?] Durrell. One of the the books is called Justine. I loved it, but whoooosh did a lot of it go soaring over my head. I certainly didn’t notice any of the sex. []

Aaargh!!! (updated)

Sometimes I read an article so relentlessly stupid that the only thing I can do is rant.

Today Cassandra Clare sent me a link to such an article. Let me quote the most enraging part:

    What this unfortunately driven young woman’s rather sad little story suggests is that one of the major reasons other young people don’t read books is that most of the stuff published for children and adolescents is abysmal, self-regarding trash. Part of the fault rests with the packagers such as Alloy and in the way they do business. A larger part of the problem stems from publishers’ misguided belief that kids want to read about people just like themselves, living lives just like their lives. Dead wrong.

    If these publishers looked to their own childhood memories rather than a spreadsheet, they’d recall that young readers, more than any others, want to be transported and shown not just other lives but whole worlds utterly different from their own. Witness the wild popularity of fantasy and science fiction among the very same kids who display the very same sensibility in their choice of video games. What could be more dispiriting than going into your room in search of escape, solace or pleasure, opening a book and reading a story about someone just like you hemmed in by the same four walls?

    The conditions that have alienated so many young people from reading are hardly unique to publishing. They’re common to other forms of entertainment and news media, where the creativity and idealism of the founding personalities have been subsumed by corporate ownership. It happened long ago in the film industry, and the tormented director or abused screenwriter is now virtually a cultural archetype. It has happened to all but a handful of the country’s broadcasters and newspapers.

I call bullshit. Lots of teenagers want to read about people like them, lots don’t, and some of them want to be transported as well as read about teenagers like them. It”s not an either/or. Very few things are. Some of those transporting books also happen to be about teenagers like them. And for your information, Mr LA Times know-nothing-about-YA reporter man, many of the bestselling books (and manga and graphic novels) for teens are fantasy or science fiction. The very genres whose reason for existing is to impart that good ole sense of wonder.

There are many, many, many wonderful books of all sorts being published for, and read by, teenagers. Cassandra, who sent me the article, writes some of it, so does Margaret Mahy, Ursula K. Le Guin,, Diana Wynne Jones, Holly Black, Scott Westerfeld, Elizabeth Knox, John Green, Libba Bray, Cecil Castellucci, Jonathan Stroud, Sonya Hartnett, E. Lockhart, Audrey Couloumbis, Laura Whitcomb and too many more to name. I cannot keep up with all the amazing YA being published each year.

And this may surprise you, Mr LA Times reporter man, but some of the books published through packaging houses are really good. Scott Westerfeld’s Midnighters series is a good example, as is pretty much anything written by Maureen Johnson, not to mention the very amusing Raisin Rodriquez books by Judy Goldschmidt.

When I compare the quality of the adult bestselling fiction to the kids and teen bestselling fiction it’s the adult fiction that loses out. I feel sorry for the adults who are still reading some of the dreck on that list when they could be reading bestselling books by Libba Bray or Jonathan Stroud.

Okay, I’m going to go read a Jaclyn Moriarty book to remove the stain on my eyeballs from that stupid article.

P.S. Yes, I have conflated YA and children’s, but so did Mr Smelly Reporter Man.

Update: Of course, Cassandra said it all more succinctly and way more wittily here. If only I’d noticed that first I coulda just directed you there. And somehow I managed to miss Cecil’s post as well. Gah.

Dans Les Griffes reviewed + what I’ve been reading & seeing

Blandine Longre, the editor of the French literary magazine, sitartmag.com, just sent me the link to a lovely review of Dans les griffes de la sorcière, the French version of Magic or Madness. From what I can tell from babelfish it looks like Anne-Judith Descombey’s translation is a very good one indeed. Thank you! This is the first review of any of the translated versions of MorM. Colour me excited!

To reward myself for sending off the first rewrites of MorM 3 on Friday I’ve been reading whatever I want to read! Woo hoo! And seeing some movies. Namely V for Vendetta—most entertaining, though what accent was Natalie Portman doing?—and last night Night Watch. Wow. Oh my Elvis. It’s gotta be one of the coolest looking films I’ve seen in ages. (Well, aside from this more-beautiful-than-a-mangosteen Hong Kong film I saw chunks of on Singapore Airlines: The Promise. That was brain breakingly gorgeous—can’t wait to see the whole thing.) Not only is Night Watch beautiful it’s also fabulous. A kind of grungy, well-acted and written Russian Ghostbusters crossed with Ludmilla & Russalka and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It made me so very happy.

I also finished reading the first volume of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy. Loved it. I especially loved that it’s completely standalone. That’s right: first volume of a trilogy and yet the story comes to a conclusion. There are no loose ends, no cliffhanger, just lots of story conclusioney goodness. Good on ya, Mr Stroud. (And, yes, I know I left the first volume of my own trilogy a bit up in the air. I’m writing about Stroud as a reader, not a writer, okay? In other words: do as I say, not as I do.)

I also love the ethical wobbliness of the two protags, Batrimaeus and Nathaniel. And the excellently done world building, especially the footnotes. Have I mentioned that I love footnotes? And it’s a cracking, hard-to-put-down read. My only complaint is that there coulda been a few more explosions. Wouldn’t have to be heaps more, just two or three . . .

Yesterday I read five novels. Graphic ones. Y’know what I like most about ‘em? That I can read five in a day without breaking into a sweat. Blissful. I’m kind of new to graphic novels and manga and shall report in a later post. But so far I’m having fun. Feel free to hit me with more recommendations. So far I’ve liked Fables and Scott Pilgrim best. But The Runaways is fun, too. More to the point I haven’t disliked anything yet, though I confess I haven’t started on the manga yet. But I will! (Thank you Holly, Rachel, Mely, and Will.)

Bookshops and the Signing thing

Wow, thanks to everyone for sharing all their writers’ humiliations. Apparently I’m not alone!

This post is for the bookseller who wrote to tell me that if I went to her bookshop I could sign whatever books I wanted.

On the same day I had my less than stellar experience at a chain I also visited Galaxy, Kinokuniya, Gleebooks and Better Read than Dead. All of them had many copies of Scott’s books and all told me that Uglies in particular is flying off the shelves. And they all had the Oz version of Magic or Madness and were very keen on me signing them. At Galaxy I didn’t even have to ask. Bless Galaxy. They rolled out the books, handed me a pen, and told me how well MorM‘d been doing for them. There was also mention of the possibility of Scott and me doing events for all of these shops. Way to make you feel wanted. Lovely!

I also figured out that I’ve been shopping at Galaxy for at least fourteen years! Oh my Elvis! That’s longer than some of my readers have been alive! And I’ve been a regular customer at Gleebooks for even longer . . . They’re two of my fave bookshops in all the world and have been incredibly good to me as both customer and now as author.

I have to admit though, that the whole signing thing is weird. I always feel like a loon asking people in bookshops if they want me to scribble on their books. It seems such an odd thing to do: “Deface your stock, Ma’am?” Though, of course, I’m very happy to have books by my favourite writers defaced, and treasure my two signed Dorothy Dunnett’s (Caprice and Rondo and Gemini).

Other than that initial awkwardness—“Hi, I’m Justine Larbalestier and, er, you seem to have some of my books. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind if I, um, signed them for you”—other than that I really like going into bookshops and chatting with the staff. For one thing, they’re mostly really into books. Surprising that, eh? And once I’ve gotten the self-promotery thing over and done with (quick as poss) I can ask about their favourite YAs and rave about mine (I talked up Haitani’s A Rabbit’s Eyes big time at Kinokuniya). Alliyx at Kinokuniya is a huge Scott Westerfeld and Holly Black fan so it was quite a treat to goss about their books. Interesting how much easier it is to push someone else’s work than it is your own.

I’d never been to Kinokuniya before. It’s amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen that much manga in one place. And the design and architecture section is huge! So’s the young adult section. In fact the whole bookstore is vast and full of bubbly helpful staff and way too many books that I lust after. And, yeah, they had my book, too. I wonder if I’ll ever stop being thrilled by seeing my book in shops? I hope not.

So, yes, Ms Bookseller-who-wrote-me, my chain bookshop experience was an anomaly.