Tuesday, December 30, 2008

History of YA

There's an interesting piece over at agent Chip MacGregor's about the history of YA fiction, and what makes a YA novel different from an adult novel. It includes this tidbit: the labelling of 14-year-olds as "young adult" dates from the early 1800s.

Read the whole thing here (the answer to the third question).

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Value Education?

Joanne Jacobs points out some interesting things over at her blog.

She points to LAUSD building an arts school for the untalented.

A quick read of the actual LA Times report shows it's less bad than that - they just allocate 75% of the slots to local residents, and don't want the 25% to overshadow the locals too much during the first year or two.

She points to various people arguing whether college is a waste of money.

Of course, the original article by Zac Bissonnette is based on the assumption that people who drop out before graduation didn't receive anything of value (or don't graduate in six years anyway). While many might tend to agree, especially when talking about Ivy league schools that practice value-free education, I personally found almost every class to be of value.

Working full-time and attending part-time, it took me ten years to get my Associate degree, and another eleven to get my Bachelor's. I wouldn't count any of it as wasted, with the possible exception of one Philosophy class that I couldn't stomach because it wasn't applicable to life in any discernable way.

One of the articles that Bissonnette points to in his article is an Atlantic article by "Professor X" discussing English 101 for adult education, and how the unnamed professor despairs that it is worth teaching, or something like that. Professor X - apparently not the Charles Xavier known by the same monicker - wanders about describing the architecture of his college and the failings of one particular student, but doesn't ever seem to come to a clear thesis statement.

There is a fuzzy one, though. The thesis, well written only from the squishy muddy nose-in-the-air point of view of The Atlantic or New Yorker, is that Professor X feels himself a gatekeeper for some qualities in higher education, qualities he feels cannot be taught to some students, although no one would or should tell that to those students because it wouldn't be nice.

My father was a teacher, though, and he never lost a student. I've been a tutor. The woman Professor X described could well have been the woman I tutored in a Logic class many years ago. She was older, and not particularly quick to learn. In any given assignment, I would show her the obvious conclusion based upon the facts presented, and she would say, "Really?", and admire my intellect and mental acuity.

Then I would tell her, no, and show her how other facts I knew could reverse the conclusions. And she'd say, "Really?" and admire my intellect and mental acuity.

Then I would say, no, and do it again with other facts, however many times I could manage it.

It took most of the semester, but little by little, the wheels got greased and she got it. Logic isn't about truth, but about how you construct arguments, based upon whatever facts you have. And how to deconstruct arguments. And how to evaluate advertising. And how to evaluate politics. And how to evaluate whatever other people call 'the facts'.

And one day I spouted off about something political, and she, instead of admiring my intelligence and mental acuity, politely took my argument apart with facts and logic. I couldn't stop laughing, because she had me cold. That moment, she stepped right up on that pedestal she had me on and told me to move over.

It was the proudest day of my life.

Don't tell me Ms L can't learn. The truth is that you weren't the right teacher for her, Professor X. The minute you decided she would flunk your class, that first day you showed her how to research at the library, you stopped having faith that she could make it.

I never made that mistake with my students. Neither did my dad. And neither he nor I ever lost one.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Over at Extreme Keyboarding, Camille Cannon Eide posts about voice. Read the comments for lots of great thoughts.

(spelling corrected on 12/29/08)

Friday, December 19, 2008

TWILIGHT, the cracked version

Rod Hilton over at cracked.com provides a concentrated version of Twilight -


Wait, we can't have sex at all, and you can't suck my blood? How can you make a vampire movie without anyone sucking blood?


It's alright, I think this movie already has more than enough sucking.

via The Swivet

Killing Children and Puppies

Okay, I think I'm goign to cross-post this one here. There was some discussion over at BookEnds LLC blog about keeping innocents alive, and I took the time to say how and when I think it works or doesn't. Here's that comment in full.
* * *

I will not continue a book after the author loses my trust.

Depending upon the tone of the book, killing a child may be the item that kills that trust.

There was a western comedy-satire, written by a black writer, with a racist white narrator and a black bounty hunter main character. It was quite funny, and the white narrator seemed like he was likely to learn something by the events in the book, chasing after his stolen wife with help he has swindled from a black bounty hunter. So I read it and enjoyed the first half.

Then the white narrator let a black child die. The book lost my trust, but I kept reading. Bad mistake.

The main challenge of the book --recovering that kidnapped wife-- was never satisfied, and the black bounty hunter suddenly transformed in the end from a realistic character to some superhuman avatar, and it all collapsed into metaphor and hyperbole.

The ending was so unsatisfying -- enough that I'd almost apply the word "racist" to it -- that I decided never again to continue reading when an author lost my trust. Killing that child meant that the author was promising something other than I wanted, and there was no reason for me to continue reading.

And, if I remembered the author's name, I'd never read another book of his that had a white character.

On the other hand, I've just completed reading "The Pesthouse" by Jim Crace, a lyrically pestilent book where he starts by telling us everyone in Ferrytown is going to die, then introduces us to a 9-10 year-old boy who lives in Ferrytown, and shows us exactly what happens. In Jim Crace's post-apocalyptic America, nature is merciless, and so are the people. Even the baby who the main character cradles through the book is at risk of its life. (...But no spoilers here...)

The difference is, that was part of the promise.

There is only one unbreakable rule: DELIVER WHAT YOU PROMISE.

In my estimate, the promise is the first 1/6 of the work, perhaps the first 50 pages of a typical novel, the first 20 minutes of a typical movie. That's how long you get to set your own rules.

After that, YOU MUST FOLLOW THEM. If you change the rules, you've violated my trust, and there's a trash can with your book's name on it.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Apparently the city of Lebanon, PA has decided that actually wanting to carry a gun should be considered a mental defect, thus should remove a person's right to carry a gun.

This article from philly.com talks about Melanie Hain's habit of carrying an unconcealed pistol around town, and the reactions of various classes of locals.

In different parts of the article, the Brady Center spokesperson makes two entirely opposite arguments - first that nothing is likely to happen that requires her to have a gun, and later that by not concealing the weapon she is making herself a target and losing the element of surprise. Hmmm, what's wrong with these two arguments being made by the same person? Because if either one is true, it cancels the other as a valid issue.

More likely, the Brady Center just doesn't want Americans to start exercising their rights to carry weapons and "normalizing" the sight of an armed American. Thus, the Brady Center will make any number of incompatible arguments to get their way on the issue.

Interesting claim about state law, that I find hard to believe is constitutional -

In Pennsylvania, gun owners are allowed to carry weapons in the open as Hain does, but need a permit to conceal them in a pocket, purse or car. So without a permit, Hain could still carry a gun at the game but couldn't take it in the car to get there.

Can't conceal it in a car, or can't possess it in a car? It would be hard to imagine how the latter could avoid violating the second amendment. On the other hand, if you can't leave it stowed in the car when you go somewhere it isn't allowed, like a bank, then that makes it very hard to exercise your rights at all. I wish Melanie Hain all the best in her lawsuit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

News Has Cooties

Buzzmachine referred to that same Zell interview I blogged on a couple of weeks ago, and had this to say -

Zell asked the right questions - about cost structure, ego, lazy ad sales, bad business practices. The first problem was that he asked them 13 years too late (see Clay Shirky, below). The second problem is that he had no answers, or the answers he had were uninformed. And the problem for the industry is that Zell is all it had to offer as a savior - and that’s saying a mouthful.

Have to agree on both points.

The final analysis?

What saddens me even more is that we are not seeing investment to step into the vacuum. I know people who’ve worked on businesses to try to create new, online-one local news operations but they can’t get funding. I have no doubt that there is a sustainable business in local news. The problem is that, at least for the present, the current and former owners of local news ruined it. Thanks to them, news has cooties.

(Emphasis mine.)

Language Log Linguifying Lately

Over at Language Log, back in 2006 Geoffrey Pullum coined a neologism for exaggerated claims of or about language use - "linguifying".

Definition: To linguify a claim about things in the world is to take that claim and construct from it an entirely different claim that makes reference to the words or other linguistic items used to talk about those things, and then use the latter claim in a context where the former would be appropriate.

I note in passing that linguifying a claim is usually (but not always) done in such a way that the new claim is false instead of true, and it is often (but not necessarily) done with the intention of achieving a humorous effect.

Hmmm. To linguify claim 1 about X is to take claim 1 and construct from it a claim 2 about X, then use claim 2 in a context where claim 1 is appropriate.

Here's an example Pullum quotes:

"Movies, theater, parties, travel--those are just a few of the English nouns that parents of young children quickly forget how to pronounce."

Okay, let's find a simpler way of saying this :

"Linguifying" is making a false or exaggerated claim about how people are using language, generally a claim intended to be taken as mild humor.

Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web has linked to a recent Pullum post applying the term to an NPR interview. Pullum is highlighting typical political spin, where Condoleeza Rice observes a juxtaposition of ideas in a question and exaggerates her negative reaction for effect.

So I'll have to expand my simplified definition :
"Linguifying" is making a false or exaggerated claim about how people are using language, often either (1) a claim intended to be taken as mild humor, or (2) a complaint intended to divert attention or close off dialogue on a touchy subject.

I'd also link to Taranto's Best of the Web, but they don't make it available for a day or so after it goes to the email list.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Steam Trek - Really!

Weburbanist had this link to "Steam Trek: The Moving Picture":

Pay close attention to the old-time piano score.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cerridwen Press Clearance Sale

Per Terry O'Dell over at Terry's Place -

Quite by chance, I discovered that Cerridwen Press is having a huge [up to 80% off] sale on many of their trade paperback titles. I don't know how long it will last, or how many books they have in stock, but ... as of 8 AM this morning, [Terry's Romantic Suspense novel] What's in a Name? was on their sale list.

If you follow this blog, you know prices on Cerridwen's trade paperbacks are scheduled for a major hike in the very near future, and since the books are printed with the price on the cover, they have to get rid of the old ones. If you're looking for a book, or want to give books as gifts, you might hurry on over and check out the sale. Where else can you get a trade paperback for $3.50?

Here's the link to Cerridwen for your shopping convenience. Looks like about 8 pages at 16 per page, so there's a bunch to choose from.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sufficiently... Magic... Science

"Any Sufficiently Analyzed Magic is Indistinguishable from Science!"

Gotta Love Girl Genius.

Rejectomancy Redux

Here's a link to a 1968 rejection letter of Ursula K Leguin's Left Hand of Darkness, which the following year was published and won a Nebula, and the next year won a Hugo.

AND, if you have read the book, you will honestly admit that every word of the rejection is true.

Ursula K. Le Guin writes extremely well. [snip] The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information [...] that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down [snip]

Yep. That's UKL, and that's LHOD. And many readers, including myself*, loved it that way.

The rejection is implicitly indicating that the Editor is looking for more action-oriented speculative fiction, whereas UKL's work is more contemplative and theme-oriented. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the editor or the book, they just aren't a match.

Don't engage in rejectomancy. "No" means "no", and that is all.

*Darn, I can't figure whether that should be "including [me, myself or I]", and I don't care enough to look it up. I think that me or myself are both acceptable. Tricia?

Rejectomancy is for Losers

Over on BookEnds LLC blog, there's a recent post about how to decode an agent rejection.

Let's face it, folks, you don't. Rejectomancy is for losers.

Here's my reply -

For your own sake, do not engage in rejectomancy. "No" means "no", and so does every other rejection letter.

Look at it like dating - you ask someone out and they say no, are they really obligated to give you a list of your undesireable characteristics? Would you really want them to? Can you believe what they say? And if you did anything about it, would it mean anything at all to the next person you ask out?

This person might say "too serious", while the next might say "no sense of humour". It happens. And there's no reason that it shouldn't, because we all have different ideals for a partner or a book.

If you are looking for a critique or a review, then go to the proper venue for one. There are lots of crit groups out there. (For instance, check out critters.org for speculative fiction.)

There are also lots of pros who will do coverage on your book or screenplay for a small fee. Make sure to pick someone with industry credits and who's not on the Editors and Predators lists as a scammer. Also, figure out what kind of feedback you are looking for before you pick a reviewer. The closer you get to your actual target audience, the better.

Once you have a work that promises something in the first 1/6 of the work and delivers exactly that by the last page, then you can look at how to market it to agents. And even if it's destined to be a best-seller, it's still a "not quite for me" for 95% of the agents out there.

That's because it really isn't for them. And if it isn't for them, if they don't have that spark that makes them truly believe, then they couldn't make it a best seller. For that, you need the one.

Do the work. Keep the faith. Keep submitting until it sells.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New Review up : Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore

I just posted new review for the smart and funny YA novel Prom Dates from Hell over at Abandoned Towers.

It's the first in by Rosemary Clement-Moore's Girl Vs Evil series, of which number three, Highway to Hell, will be out in the spring.

Spin, Pitch and Roll by Faith Hunter

Over at Magical Words, Faith Hunter has this to say about pitches:
My pal *Mary* has been trying to get an agent excited about her Southern Women’s Fiction Novel for months. Everyone passed. She changed her pitch and the *one* agent of her dreams asked to see the whole thing, wanting an exclusive *right away*. What did she change?

Did I really just cut out the answer? Well, yeah.

It's worth popping over there to read the whole thing, especially the part after the cut. Hunter goes through four different pitches for the same novel, based upon what genre the agent/publisher is really interested in.

For those of us whose default story is "cross-genre", like me with my dragon westerns and New Weird Southern Gothic romances and YA magical steampunk romantic adventures, this is a skill we need to practice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book Trailer Contest for Holly Lisle's The Ruby Key

Awesome SF/F author and writing guru Holly Lisle has decided to have a 3-month contest for book trailers for her latest YA novel The Ruby Key.

Each month there will be two winners, one Adult Division and one Junior Division. The Current Contest, Rules and a partial manuscript are up at hollylisle.net.

The first month of the contest ends December 20th, so if your YouTube-foo is strong, you might wish to get a move on and leave your competitors in the dust.

Monday, December 1, 2008

HMH Hold is not for Children

No, I'm not talking about a choke hold.

According to Agent Kristin over at Pub Rants, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's hold on acquisitions is not in all departments, they still are acquiring children's books.

Good News.