Thursday, July 30, 2009

Speaking of books...

And now, speaking of books... I got a tentative book list yesterday!!!! So excited!!! Can you tell??

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (aka The Golden Compass in the US)
Any novels by David Almond, Meg Rosoff and Frank Cottrell Boyce
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

A mostly British reading list, which is to be expected. Actually, probably good because if it were mostly American, I'd probably have read many of them already. Actually, as it is, I've read the White (when I was little and I can't wait to re-read it!) and Pullman and 2 books by Almond. But the others are unread. Any suggestions? Comments??? =)

Book reviews

Speaking of criticism, my Dad once told me I should review movies because whenever I came back from the movies I always had something to say. I'm much the same with books.

I love reading passionately. If I didn't, I wouldn't spend all this time trying to create books and stories. But that also means I can feel betrayed by books, disappointed, or even angry. I'll put my cards on the table right now: one of my guilty pleasures used to be reading bad reviews on Amazon*. Not for books I loved, that would be too painful. But for books I felt lukewarm about, or even books I hated. I wanted to see if anyone agreed with me, shared my frustrations. And of course the crazy reviewers are always good for a laugh.

Also, I read constantly. And I want to know what's good, what I might like. Of course reviewers can be wrong. I just finished a fantasy I quite enjoyed, even though others said it was just a Harry Potter rip-off. But frequently reviews can highlight for me things that might frustrate me. Like, if 50 reviewers says a book has weak characters--well, I read for characters.

But as I've more actively followed the children's book world, the more I've found that most (nearly all) authors do not review books. Look at authors' pages on Goodreads if you doubt me! Every book there will be ranked with 5 stars, or no score at all. Why? Well, for starters the YA and MG (young adult and middle grade) community is very small. You could easily slam someone's book today and end up meeting them at a conference or with your editor or at a signing the next day. The second reason is that authors know how very difficult writing is, the years it can take, the way your novels are like your babies. And nasty reviews hurt.

So I've been thinking about this a lot lately, changing some of my own practices on Goodreads, relying on torrents of good reviews rather than torrents of bad ones to chose books. But I miss being able to say what I really think about some books. And part of me wants to warn people, if a book is truly a betrayal (I've only read 1 book like this in my life, but I still remember it and regret it).

What do you think as a writer? As a reader? For more thoughts on this, Sarah Prineas (author of The Magic Thief and a fellow Carleton grad!) has an excellent blog post, with lots of discussion in the comments as well.

*Amazon and I have had a falling out as of late. That's all I'll say about it for the moment. =)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A new beginning

This spring everything seemed to change all at once.

On a low day at work, I signed up for a 'Career Coaching' session with the University of Bristol. Three months later I found myself at the careers office (clearly, they are very over-used and understaffed), explaining the possibilities I saw open before me, including a random course at Bath Spa University I had recently applied for. After I finished talking the counselor said, "Well, it seems obvious to me what you should do."

Clearly it was not obvious to me. My head was racing. What, what should I do??

"Tell me about the writing course," she said.

What the counselor helped me to realize in that short session was that I had a golden opportunity staring me right in the face. More than ever I wanted to take some time off to work at my writing. I dream of becoming a published children's author. And the Bath Spa program seems like the perfect opportunity to critically apply myself to my writing.

I could think of every reason in the world not to sign up, and I shared them all with the counselor. But at the end of the session I realized for once in my life I was going to give myself permission to do exactly what I wanted.

A week later I received my acceptance letter for Bath Spa University's masters in Writing for Young People. A week after that I signed my name and returned the form. Friday will be my last day of work at the University of Bristol and in September I will begin classes.

I ended my last blogging foray a little over a year ago. I missed it terribly, but I couldn't find enough time to write, and many of my posts seemed so whiny to my ears. Whiny and overly critical.

But now that I have been granted a bit of time in my life, I want to try my hand at blogging again here at 'Critically-Yours'.

But my goal is a more complex than pure criticism. This year I want to throw all my powers of criticism into ripping my writing, my plotting, my voice, apart so I can become the best writer possible.

But aside from my fiction writing, I want to work at being less critical. I want to open my mind to my fellow classmates, my teachers, Bath Spa's beautiful campus, and try to learn everything I can. I also want to open my mind to life in a new country (even though I've lived here for two years, it still feels so new and bizarre) and a new way of living as a full time writer.

So to hold myself accountable to these goals, but also to give myself the opportunity for a little fun writing, let this blog commence!