Saturday, November 12, 2011

Light Up the Library Auction

Kidlit author Jean Reidy, who recently released LIGHT UP THE NIGHT, is hosting an online auction called Light Up the Library to benefit a library at Musana's Children's Home located in Iganga, Uganda. According to Musana's Children's Home web site, the facility is an orphanage and school. Some kidlit industry professionals are contributing their products and/or services to this auction, which began on November 7 and will end on November 18.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Author Interview with Jennifer Solow

A few years ago, I read THE BOOSTER (Atria)- it’s a book about a woman with a shoplifting compulsion. Last year, Jennifer Solow, the author of THE BOOSTER, released her first kidlit book for middle grade readers, THE ARISTOBRATS (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). The Aristobrats are legacy students at the prestigious Wallingford Academy where popularity is a must. Parker and her three best friends, incoming eighth-graders, know this is their year to shine but their popularity is threatened when they’re stuck managing the school’s super uncool web casts. Recently, I interviewed Jennifer.

Were you born and raised in New York? Where did you go to college, and what did you major in?
I think because I write a lot about Manhattan, people think I grew up there, which is flattering for a Manhattan-o-phile like myself! I actually grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and went to Rhode Island School of Design. I think I was a ‘closet writer’ disguised as an artist. (Maybe because I can’t really type and can’t really spell and my sentence structure generally needs…uh…help.) Looking back, I was always making paintings of poems. I got an A+ in a screenplay writing class…in art school! It really never occurred to me that I was actually a writer with a paint set. Or maybe I’m still a painter with a Thesaurus. Words…visuals… paint…pens…they all feel so similar to me. 

How did working in advertising help you in fiction writing?                                 
I work hard. I am ambitious. I know how to sell stuff. I know the difference between a good idea and a boring idea. I am comfortable with the notion that the publishing industry is a business and faces challenges like any other industry. I don’t confuse art with commerce. I am also a collaborator by nature – I love working on projects with other smart people with different perspectives. I don’t view the creative process as precious – I think of it as a party with friends I’ve invited.

Was it hard to transition from writing for adults into writing for the kidlit market?                                                                                                                                         
I don’t think of it as a different market; I think of it as different characters. The main character in my first book, THE BOOSTER, is 29 and figuring out how to grow up. The main character in THE ARISTOBRATS is in 8th grade and figuring out how to grow up. Writing is as hard as it is fun, period. No matter how old or young the characters are, it still involves a whole lot of sitting in a chair at your computer.

In your book bio, you mention you had attended an exclusive private school where a student’s social status depended on the haircut they had. At this school, what other factors determined a student’s “acceptability” and how did you use these memories in THE ARISTOBRATS?
I think most teenagers feel like they’re rejects from their world whether they are or they aren’t. We probably all feel like rejects once in a while. I remember fawning over this certain nail polish color that a few of my friends had. With it, I thought I could be anything. Without it, I thought I was nothing. Was that true? No. Same with having the right haircut – is it true you really need the right haircut to be accepted? Who says YOU can’t be the one to say what the right haircut is in the first place? “Acceptability” or “popularity” is really a state of mind more than anything. In THE ARISTOBRATS, Parker says, “You have to picture who you want to be and then just imagine that’s who you already are.” That’s as true now as it was for me then. If you want to be something, just pretend it long enough until you get there.

One of the things I liked about THE ARISTOBRATS is that Parker and her friends (a.k.a. the popular girls) are nice to others. I feel the notion that popular girls have to be mean girls is a false stereotype because unpopular girls and wannabes can also be mean girls. How did it feel to write against a stereotype?    
My daughter, Tallulah, is in middle school and she’s popular. I really wanted to send a message to her that power can be used for good or evil. The idea that nerdy girls are good and popular girls are “Mean Girls” is wrong. People (of all ages) are complex and full of faults and strengths. Anyone can be an inclusive and powerful leader. Popular girls have a unique opportunity to be that for others. It may be writing against stereotype but who says middle grade writing needs to be stereotypical? I wanted my characters to be real and I wanted them to be role models for Tallulah.

I like the sharp details in your settings, such as that of the posh and elite Wallingford Academy. How do you craft vivid and believable settings?                  
A painting teacher I had once said that, “realism is in the details.” I always remember that quote when I write – the deeper and more specific I can go with the details, the more real the world becomes. When I dream, I imagine vivid places that are totally alive for me. I can remember a place from a dream I had 20 years ago. That’s like writing a setting for me – I simply construct it in my imagination like a stage set and then ‘visit’ that place when I write. I also collect image files. I often ‘cast’ my books with photos of the characters and populate the settings with all the relevant details. I keep notebooks that have torn scraps of everything from the ‘perfect white shirt’ that Parker wears to the chandeliers at Wallingford to the wallpaper that the headmistress has in her office. There’s a specificity to these details that I like – they create the world of the story.

What are your favorite kidlit authors or books?                                               
THE GREAT GATSBY is my favorite book. Lorrie Moore is my favorite author. Dr. Seuss taught me the most about writing. I’m a sucker for the Gallagher Girls (obvs!) and could curl up to a good re-read of JENNIFER, HECATE, MACBETH, WILLIAM MCKINLEY, AND ME, ELIZABETH right now, but I get into trouble when I really delve into authors in my genre when I’m writing something. Suddenly, after reading THE HUNGER GAMES, I was depressed that my character wasn’t Katniss, which is silly but true. I have to stay away from books in my genre until after I’m done writing. The book on my bedside table right now is “Easy Composters You Can Build”.

When is THE ARISTOBRATS 2 coming out? What is it about?                    
Hopefully THE ARISTOBRATS II, CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER SOMEBODY will be out in the spring. I’m a little in the dark about it because I’ve lost my second editor at my publishing house and I think they may have forgotten about me. As an author, that’s unfortunately part of the drill (breathe deeply, Jennifer!) But the book, when it does come out, is about love and loss…and rock stars! Parker’s mother loses her job and Parker faces leaving school, the webcast and her best friends behind. One of the girls falls in love (you won’t believe which one…or with whom!). It’s a big turning point for Parker – for all of them. Plus James is so incredibly hot in book 2. I’m desperately in love with James – he’s my ideal guy.

I totally dig the pictures of you in the Famous Author tank top.                                           
I have a painting on my wall by Shari Elf. It’s says, “I always have to ask myself, What would Cher do?” That’s writing for me – not a mechanism for putting words on paper, but a chance to have fun and to be fantabulouz (like Kiki) for a while. I took the “Famous Author” photo with a very famous photographer named Terry Richardson. He owed me a favor from my days in advertising and I called it in. One day after the photo appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, I was hiking a trail near my house. A girl stopped me and pointed: “You’re the Famous Author!” I said, “YES! YES! I’m the Famous Author!” That’s what life is to me. Having fun. Trying ‘characters’ on. Making magic happen. Asking a hotshot photographer to take your picture while you’re still cool enough to do it. My life is about more than writing books – it’s about joy and work and creating something from nothing.

Thanks for the opportunity.

You're so welcome, Jennifer!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Books I Read in October

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia (Middle Grade-Amistad) In the summer of 1968, an 11 year-old girl and her two younger sisters must spend a summer in Oakland with their disinterested mother who had once abandoned them. While staying with their mother, the girls participate in a youth camp hosted by the Black Panthers. The author was a presenter at the SCBWI discussion  panel on multiculturalism I attended earlier this year. 

DUMPLING DAYS (ARC) by Grace Lin (Middle Grade- Little, Brown & Co.) I was so excited to receive this ARC! To be released in January 2012, this book is a continuation of Pacy's adventures which originated in THE YEAR OF THE DOG. Here, Pacy and her family spend part of their summer in Taiwan. When she is not busy with her Chinese painting class, Pacy is immersed in the food, culture, and lifestyle of her parents' native Taiwan. Check out my author interview in January.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What I'd Be Doing During NaNoWriMo

It's National Novel Writing Month! I've never written a novel during NaNoWriMo, but I do like reading about people who pursue their dreams of being novelists during this month (as well as the other eleven months of the year). Someday, I'd like to participate in NaNoWriMo, to start a novel from a shaky start to a sloppy first draft finish, and then call it a month. 

This November, however, I'll be busy at working on revising my WIP. It has already gone through a few drafts. I recently ran my MS through a couple of AWESOME critique buddies, and have been reflecting on how to incorporate their feedback into the final drafts. 

Revising isn't easy. I'm forced to look at my work from a neutral perspective and I have to frequently remind myself that it doesn't matter if I'm smitten with a part that I'd written- what I need to consider now is if an agent or editor or intended reader would get it too. If not, it means I need to cut or revise. That's why I make it a point not to fall too deeply in love with my first drafts because chances are, I'm going to need to tweak a lot of the stuff around.

How would you be spending NaNoWriMo? (Responses don't have to be writing-related.)