Saturday, October 31, 2009
I was Princess Mia Thermopolis from Meg Cabot's THE PRINCESS DIARIES for Halloween.
Maybe you've already figured that out? But no one posted, so I thought I might need to let some of you in on it.
25% of my class got it, which made me quite happy (yes, that's only 2 people, but it's a small class!).
I did mean to post all of this earlier, but I've been quite busy. And then I thought I would write a blog post about how busy I am. And then I thought, Goodness, Anne, if you're that busy, get to work! So I have.
Happy Halloween, all!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Props for anyone who has a clue who I'm supposed to be!
That says Greenpeace. Did you see the Docs?
And notice the snowflake necklace (I'm very proud of it).
Hint: she was a favorite character from my summer reading.
Ok, yeah, yeah, I know it's not great. But still, makes me happy. And that's all that matters, right?
Happy Halloween all!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
But in continuation of my previous goal of celebrating the things I love, I want to share two recent finds with you.
My DH is a bit of a comic nerd. I actually really appreciate this about him. I can tell him all about the ins and outs of the children's writing world, and he explains to me the same about the comic world. In some ways they're very similar, but in other ways (audience, financial concerns, market set-up), they're quite different.
Occasionally the two worlds overlap, and Phil is always on the look out for comics I'll love. Thanks to him, I've had the pleasure of reading RE-GIFTERS by Mike Carey, POLLY AND THE PIRATES by Ted Naifeh and I KILL GIANTS by Joe Kelly, all well-written comics with young adult main characters.
When Phil read the first issue of THE UNWRITTEN by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, he told me we needed to read it together. We just finished the 6th issue this past weekend, and I am absolutely riveted by the story. Book lovers NEED to be reading this comic. It combines a Harry Potter-esque story with literary history (Kipling, Twain, and Wilde all make appearances). Here's a blurb of a review from Wired:
"The Unwritten is a fascinating piece of speculative literary geography wrapped in an unassuming comic book from DC Comics’ mature Vertigo line.
"With casual yet deeply informed writing from Mike Carey and accessible art from Peter Gross, The Unwritten sucks you in as a witty satire of heroic boy wizards like Harry Potter, then blows your mind in the strange netherworld between truth and fiction. The ongoing saga maps the intriguing territory where fandom, literature, conspiracy theory, metafiction and magic mash together, making it one of the brainiest and most interesting comics of the year.
"On its surface, The Unwritten chronicles the bizarro misadventures of Tommy Taylor, whose father wrote a series of insanely popular books about a boy-genius wizard named … Tom Taylor. The setup gives Carey and Gross the perfect springboard for diving into an ancient conspiracy that spans from literature to the internet, using the history of text as torsion. And as Taylor investigates, he stumbles from a low-level celebrity to an accidental savior, at war with a cabal with no name."And yes, it's that good.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of watching the movie The Jane Austen Book Club. It was recommended by Thea on the fantastic The Book Smugglers' blog. While I'm not a romance reader at all, I like chick flicks. A lot, actually. But nothing makes me more angry than an inaccurate or misogynistic portrayal of women. So I don't watch many chick flicks. Thea promised The Jane Austen Book Club to be "Heartstring-tugging, refreshingly romantic in a way that isn’t condescending, and realistic." And I trust Thea (and her counterpart, Ana). Plus, the doctor (and my parents) told me to take it easy (so lots of movies!).
I'm happy to say, The Jane Austen Book Club lived up to all my hopes. I laughed out loud, I got a little teary-eyed, and I want to tell all my fellow chick flick friends about this lovely movie. Besides, how can you go wrong when you combine a Jane Austen lover with an Ursula le Guin lover? Thanks, Thea!
Monday, October 26, 2009
I just bought a printer.
I know that doesn't sound very exciting. I've owned printers before.
But this is my first printer purchased in the UK. I figured it wasn't fair to my husband's employer to make them support my MA in writing habit with paper and toner.
My husband and I also now own a TV, a DVD player, a radio, a microwave and a toaster (though it only toasts on the bottom half). We have over a dozen dvds and several dozen books. You'll notice we haven't quite made the commitment to a desk yet, though. Because every purchase makes me more uncomfortable.
It's "in" to worry about material consumption. But my husband and I worry much more than most, I think. For starters, we already own a printer, as well as a TV, DVD player and stereo system (I think we sold the microwave and toaster). They're sitting, unused, in a storage locker in Chicago. If we had to do the move all over again, would have sold more of our household? Probably. But we had no idea, beyond two years, how long we would live in the UK, what we would think of it, when we might return to the US. And selling a reliable printer that you've owned for less than a year? Hard.
Of course, I now own a printer which I know I will never bother bringing back to the US. I'd need an adapter plug just to run it. My willingness to sell (and donate!) has developed extensively since moving.
It isn't just the money, though my cheapskate heart does shudder with every purchase. It's the waste that bothers me. And, perhaps even more so, the thought of how hard it will become one day to pack up and leave the UK.
Friday, October 23, 2009
In the past, I've tried to explain about the joys of a night of pure make-believe for children, a sense of community in caretaking for children and providing goodies. So imagine my happiness in discovering my classmates already completely converted.
We're all dressing up for class Friday. What will I wear???
A little heavy? Certainly. According to my classmate, who shared the book with me, it couldn't even find a UK publisher until a publisher in the US picked it up. But the book doesn't feel irrelevant for a child. Parents do fight, children do get scared. We've been talking in class about the emotional core in picture books, and how the best stories speak to something inside children that is true and makes them feel accepted. Remember Max in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE? He's not a good boy; he gets sent to bed without his supper. The subtext in the pictures is even more terrible. Is he nailing his bed sheet to the wall? Has he hung his stuffed toy by the neck?
Because of the recent movie, Maurice Sendak has received a fair amount of publicity lately for his anger over parents saying WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE might be too scary for children (here's an article about it in the Guardian). Sendak says, in referring to an argument about whether or not Max's supper should be "hot" as opposed to "warm": "Just trying to convey how dopey 'warm' sounded. Unemotional. Undramatic. Everything about that book is 'hot'."
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
1. Our instructors have strongly encouraged us to write for multiple age groups.
Part of this is about experimenting, and helping us to find the age group that best fits us. When I worked in education, teachers used to talk about finding the perfect grade fit. Some teachers are afraid of high school students, some can't imagine wiping noses all day. I was surprised to discover how much I loved teaching 7th grade. Loved the reactions I'd get, too! Go ahead, try it, tell someone you teach 7th grade and watch their face sour! Anyway, I think the same is true in writing. I feel most comfortable writing for middle schoolers (say ages 11-14).
But our instructors have encouraged more than just experimentation. Currently, both of my tutors, Julia Green and Steve Voake, have written for multiple ages (Julia writes predominately young adult, but has also written for reluctant readers. Steve writes for 8-12, but he has also written picture books and early reader chapter books. Also, be careful on Steve's site with your volume--it's scary!).
2. I have really enjoyed writing picture books.
I thought it would be a fun challenge, but wasn't sure I would be happy with the results of my work. I'm still not sure I'm happy, but I've now written two rough drafts, and find myself thoroughly enjoying the genre.
Course, this could be because I'm addicted to writing in general... Yesterday I read an early chapter book (probably for 4-8 year olds) and thought, "oohhh, I wonder if I could write one of these!"
I was pleased to see Mary Kole, an agent at Andrea Brown, tackling this exact writing for multiple ages question on her kidlit.com blog.
I also read this fascinating (and funny!) article in the New York Times about Sherman Alexie's first young adult book and his reasons for switching genres.
But both Mary and Sherman Alexie (not quite brave enough to venture into a first-name basis with Sherman Alexie!) make this sort of multi-age, multi-genre writing sound rarer than I expected. Perhaps in the UK it is more common, at least for children's writers.
In the shower this morning (I get my best thinking done in the shower), I could only think of a few authors I know of who fit this profile. Jane Yolen has written everything from picture books to fairy tales to young adult books to adult books. Meg Cabot has written middle grade books, young adult books, and adult romances. I know of one up and coming author, the talented Cindy Pon, who has written a young adult fantasy and is now working on writing and illustrating her own picture book. Can you think of any others? And what about the writers out there? Do you hope someday to write for mutiple audiences?
Monday, October 19, 2009
But the purpose of the weekend was not solely an opportunity for Anne to relish the countryside. The idea was for the students and tutors to get to know each other, feel more comfortable with each other, and to begin to build a community so we might better critique and support each other as writers. And it worked. As several of my new friends have said to me, we already feel like a family.
So far Bath Spa has been near perfect in cultivating this community, and I've been thinking about what they've done right, what elements are important to forming a writing family.
- Required sharing
- Honesty about self
- Honesty with critiques
- Start with something good
In other news, since my last post, I have written one full picture book and started a second. I've enjoyed them as much as expected, but I'm not confident they're any good. After a fabulous class with Julia this weekend, I have done some further thinking on my new novel idea and am quite enthusiastic about it. My problem is quickly becoming too many works in progress, not too few. But of course that's a good problem to have! I'm still hacking and wheezing, but perhaps the end is in sight? Or another trip to the doctor...
Best wishes for your writing and your writing communities!
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Well, I'm still hacking up a lung and developing Mount Kleenex, but after the first good night's sleep in--days? weeks?!--I'm feeling a bit more like myself. Which is good, cause the to-do list has gotten a bit massive in my absence. And okay, blogging is not on the top of the to do list... but I've missed it!
This week in my "Forms, Ages and Stages" course we're working on picture books. Which is good, because I don't think I could have handled much more this week! Specifically we're discussing one of the greatest picture books of all time, Maurice Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. (Ohhh... click here for WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE tattoos! Also some other literary ones). But our tutor recommended some other picture books as well. So I also read:
- COME ON, DAISY by Jane Simmons (perhaps the most adorable duck pictures I have ever seen!)
- OWL BABIES by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson
- LEON AND BOB by Simon James (I think this was my favorite; I even got a little teary eyed at the end)
- KING & KING by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland (this wasn't one of the recommended books, but I've heard a lot about it--it's banned in the US frequently--so when I saw a copy in the library, I had to get it. It's funny, when I read it, I just found a charming story with fascinating collage-like illustrations. Yes, it is about gay marriage, but otherwise it's just a cute story about a prince falling in love).
But I'm really excited about trying my hand at a picture book or two of my own. I think the excitement will wane dramatically when I discover just how hard it is to have character development, a climax and resolution in 300 words, but for now it sounds like a fun challenge. I'll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, what are some of your favorite picture books? And Mom, Dad (I know you're out there!), what were some of mine?
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Just wanted to apologize for not posting recently and to say it might be another week. Life seems to have gotten the better of me lately, and I have come down with the "cold that will never end."
Hope you're all feeling better and more creative than I am.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
When I left my job, countless people asked me how I intended to spend my time. I don't think they imagined I could just read and write all day. Actually, I was pretty nervous myself. I had trained myself to think in thirty minute chunks. I fantasized about what having more time would do for my writing, but was afraid I would never get past my thirty minute chunk mindset. Well, I'm happy to say that hasn't been a problem at all. The limitless time has been such a blessing, and I feel like I've been able to try new things and stretch myself in a way I was never able to before when working in thirty minute chunks. Most days I now put in 3-4 hours, sometimes as many as 9.
My goal was to have a complete rough draft of my work in progress before classes started. I had no idea how quickly I could work when I wasn't restricted to thirty minutes a day. I finished the draft within the next two weeks. I then spent several weeks sorting out the plot, tying up lose ends, making sure each character had a logical story. And now I am about a third of the way through my first revision.
The writing has gone so well, in fact, that I have begun to search for new story ideas. I'm pleased to report I've found a few since my last post about searching for inspiration. They're still quite amorphous, but I look forward to exploring them further as my course gets underway.
So picture this, if you will. Anne is confident, hardworking, feeling good about her current wip, excited about everything before her. Then, Sunday afternoon, the phone rings and all my confidence and composure vanishes.
I learned I had won a spot in SCBWI's* UNDISCOVERED VOICES 2010 for the first few chapters of my previous work in progress, ADÈLE (my ghost story). To quote UV's website, "Undiscovered Voices is an anthology of excerpts from unpublished children’s fiction from the members of SCBWI British Isles, as selected by a combination of editors and agents."
Actually, what the heck, I'll quote most of the press release I got:
"We are proud to announce the following twelve stories and authors will be featured in the British SCBWI's Undiscovered Voices 2010 anthology:
Adele by Anne M Leone (Anne ML Anderson)
Back from the Dead by Nick Cross
Fifteen Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins
One of a Kind by Jude Ensaff (Najoud Ensaff)
From Darkness by Emily George
At Yellow Lake by Jane McLoughlin
Not Just the Blues by Claire O'Brien
The Truth about Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne
Vivian Divine and the Days of the Dead by Lauren Sabel
Slugs in the Toilet by Lisa Joy Smith
Blinding Darkness by Abbie Todd
Becoming Invisible by Yona Wiseman
"We received nearly 150 submissions from SCBWI members. The response was beyond our wildest expectations both in terms of quantity and quality. These selected stories are a fantastic sample of the submissions we received. The judges endeavored to select a variety of voices, styles and genre from the anonymous submissions in an effort to demonstrate the array of talent in the British SCBWI.
"Undiscovered Voices will be published in February 2010 and distributed at no cost to US and UK-based editors and agents focusing on children's literature. Best-selling children's author Melvin Burgess will write an introduction to the book, and we will include judges' comments for each selected story appearing in the anthology. The book will be available for sale at British SCBWI events after its publication.
"The anthology's goal is not only to introduce new, promising voices in children's literature but also elevate British SCBWI in the minds of editors and agents which will help to benefit every SCBWI member.
"Special thanks to our judges for their hard work and for their enthusiasm for the project:
Julia Churchill, The Greenhouse Literary Agency; Zoe Duncan, Scholastic Children's Books; Lindsey Heaven, Puffin Books; Sarah Manson, Literary Agent; Jo Unwin, Conville and Walsh; and Emma Young, Macmillan Children's Books."
So yeah, a bit of a big deal. And you see how I'm first? Alphabetizing at its finest!
In all seriousness, though, I was blown away to be included in this very prestigious publication. SCBWI-BI has only done this once before (2008), and the writers from that publication have been extremely successful (Steve Hartley, Harriet Goodwin, Sarwat Chadda, etc). My hands still tremble every time I think about it. Who knew I could be such a flake? Needless to say, all my writing habits and plans for my current wip (not to mention house cleaning, email, and grocery shopping) have flown out the window for the moment. But in a good way. I'm thrilled for the opportunity to share ADÈLE (have I mentioned it's a ghost story??).
Best wishes to all of you in your own writing projects!
*SCBWI: The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (note: I've linked to the British Isles chapter, but it is an international organization).
Monday, October 5, 2009
HOW I LIVE NOW and WHAT I WAS and THE BRIDE'S FAREWELL by Meg Rosoff
COSMIC and FRAMED by Frank Cottrell Boyce
THE SAVAGE by David Almond (SKELLIG is also on my reading list, but seeing as I just read it in May, I decided not to reread it right away)
NORTHERN LIGHTS by Philip Pullman
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS by John Boyne
CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White
As I said in my previous post, I'm really thrilled to have discovered Frank Cottrell Boyce and Meg Rosoff. Both FRAMED and COSMIC started slowly for me, but by the ends I enjoyed both immensely. Boyce is a very visual author, and with both books their gorgeous imagery stuck with me long after I finished reading them. FRAMED is about art and how it can transform a community, and Boyce manages to make the art's beauty come alive on the page. I must figure out how he does this. I would love to teach the book in conjunction with encouraging kids to create their own art.
THE BRIDE'S FAREWELL has been my favorite Meg Rosoff read yet. It was absolutely riveting. I don't think I got up from the couch, even moved, as I read the last hundred pages. Like the rest of her books, it is not a simple and happy story, but I found it especially thought-provoking. Another book it would be really interesting to teach, though with an older group than FRAMED. Horses play a major role in the story; maybe we could go on a horseback ride in conjunction with discussing that book. Anything to get out of traditional school worksheets.
Follow these links for posts on my thoughts on NORTHERN LIGHTS and THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS. More detailed thoughts on Meg Rosoff, Frank Cottrell Boyce and David Almond are available in my previous reading update.
I was really looking forward to rereading CHARLOTTE'S WEB, as I remember it well from my childhood. But on reading it, I had lots of mixed feelings. The book's language was gorgeous (as expected from E. B. White), Wilbur and Charlotte were charming as ever, but I was really confused by Fern (the little girl). No wonder she hadn't stuck in my mind. The novel begins with her saving Wilbur, but by the end of the book she's replaced him with thoughts of boys and fairs. Was White trying to make a point about growing up? Are little children supposed to emulate Fern? Or if the book is about friendship, are we supposed to see Fern as a bad friend? Either way, her behavior didn't strike me as realistic for a young girl. Perhaps my adult mind or my English literature degree has completely ruined a lovely book about life, death and the animal world, but I was disconcerted by its seeming lack of a central theme.
I haven't given up on childhood favorites, though. A former writing teacher had recommended I reread A WRINKLE IN TIME, as its climax reminded her of the climax of my own writing (imagine being compared to Madeleine L'Engle!). I found A WRINKLE IN TIME as magical and thought-provoking as I did as a child. I was also shocked to discover how many of the themes in my current work in progress may have originated from L'Engle's book. Funny how great literature can stick with you, even subconsciously.
Speaking of childhood favorites, I just finished I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith Saturday night. A coming-of-age story combined with a modernization story. It takes its readers from a crumbling castle, classical music and books, and a tiny English village, to a modern world of radios, clothes, London, and post-modern literature. It is funny, sad and so true I often found myself nodding at the text, wanting to underline passages in my library copy.
Readers often say they want the next Little Women or the next Harry Potter or the next Jane Eyre. But I think what they really wa...more Here's my review from goodreads: A coming-of-age story combined with a modernization story. It takes its readers from a crumbling castle, classical music and books, and a tiny English village, to a modern world of radios, clothes, London, and post-modern literature. It is funny, sad and so true I often found myself nodding at the text, wanting to underline passages in my library copy.
Readers often say they want the next Little Women or the next Harry Potter or the next Jane Eyre. But I think what they really want is a book that can recreate the feeling of reading one of those novels. A book that will keep you reading past dinner, late into the night, without once looking at the clock. A book that will have you laughing out loud, gasping, and re-reading passages just to recreate certain exact moments. A book that once you finish it, you want to run out into the night and buy a copy of your own to keep forever. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE is such a book. And I am beyond annoyed that it was published first in 1949 and I have only heard of it now. Had I read this book in middle school or high school, I know I would have carried it through my life, recreated its scenes in my head, reread it until all its pages were falling out. But luckily I have discovered it now, and I still have the rest of my life to reread it often.
I have one disappointment with the book, but as I'm trying to keep this review spoiler-free, I won't say more than that. However, even in my disappointment, I was up half the night after finishing the book, thinking through the text, railing against the author. Any book that can make me feel that passionately, good and bad, is incredible.
Well, since I left my job at the end of July, I've read 33 books. I read one memoir, one biography, two adult fictions and one adult fantasy. The rest have been children's books, a combination of middle grade and young adult novels. My favorites? Well, excluding some of those mentioned above, the absolute best,which I've linked to my reviews, are:
CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers
JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE by Wendy Mass
Courtney has a new book coming out this winter. You can see the trailer for it here.
I also strongly recommend Wendy Mass' earlier book, A MANGO SHAPED SPACE. Everyone says her most recent book, EVERY SOUL A STAR is the best of all. I'll need to save up my pocket money for the next time I visit the US.
Friday, October 2, 2009
I was nervous about this all week. What will my fellow students think of me? What will I think of them? What if this whole thing turns into a big mistake?
My biggest moment of panic was when I got off at the bus stop, on a lonely highway eventually leading into Bath's city center. It's only a two minute walk from Bath Spa's main entrance, but I couldn't remember which way it was and panicked. "Oh God, I'm not going to make it because I'm going to get lost somewhere along a random highway in the middle of no where and I know I'm going to start crying!" Then I saw a road sign and with much relief walked up to the main entrance. Phew, no tears.
As soon as I started up the road to Bath Spa's Newton Park campus, I knew I'd done the right thing. I know that sounds strange, but it felt so incredibly right. The campus could not have looked prettier. Rolling hills spread out in the distance, dotted with stone houses. The sun was setting over the trees. Sheep were grazing alongside the road. Sheep! Next time I'll bring my camera, promise. But even if it rains every time from here on out (and it probably will), last night I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. Sometimes nature just feels that way to me. I trust it.
No camera, but here's a picture of the hills from Bath Spa's website:
Oh, and here's the castle. Yes, there really is a castle. I have classes in it. Phbbt!
Twenty minutes later (it's a long walk up), I made it to the library. Three cows were grazing in a fenced area outside. Registration was a breeze. No one beat me up and stole my lunch money, no one demanded to fingerprint me, people were instead kind and friendly. I even met a fellow student from Bristol who offered to give me a ride home later that evening.
The IT session was randomly run by American novelist Mimi Thebo, and I must say it was definitely the funnest* IT session I've ever been to.
Then Mimi, much of the rest of the faculty, and all of the new students (Writing for Young People was combined with Creative Writing and Scriptwriting) met for a welcome reception. I had the opportunity to meet most of my classmates (there are about 15 of us total), which was so reassuring (again, no one beat me up!). Actually, the best part was when I realized I was in a room full of writers. We chatted about the opening to Meg Rosoff's HOW I LIVE NOW (is it too conversational? Would a British boy really act that way?), about how she's a brilliant speaker, graphic novel art, how we had learned about he program, what types of writing we were doing. It was just talking shop, but such a rare treat! When I got home that evening, I found myself less scared and more super excited. Plus, my husband glanced at me and said, "You look nice," which is always good to hear.
So in conclusion? I think it's all going to be okay.
Stay tuned: today the IOC will announce the 2016 Olympics host. Will Chicago (my former home) get it? Not sure if that would be a good thing for the city or not, but if they do, then I'm cheering loudly.
Gorgeous picture from the Guardian (Photograph: Paul Beaty/AP)
* Funnest: I'm a writer so I can use whatever words I want.