Monday, November 26, 2007

They Might Not Be Giants

I survived ALAN. Overall I think it went well. And no bed bugs! In my opinion, any day without a bed bug is a good day. I won't mention cockroaches (though I am happy to report there were no cockroaches in my hotel room, either, at least none that I could see) as too much talk about bugs and their nimble little toes can cause fainting spells in even the most stout-hearted among us. My hotel actually seemed quite posh, and not just because it didn't have bed bugs. (Oops, sorry.)

I am a nervous traveller, so I was surprised by my reaction to NYC: It seemed so small! Where, I wondered, did such a notion come from? Of course, I only saw a tiny sliver of NYC (mostly around Times Square, all touristy and bright) and I know NYC is huge, but I think I had built it up to such enormous proportions in my mind--buildings at least twelve miles high--that no city could have met my expectations. I was also strangely comfortable trotting about on foot--I had a good guide who showed me around--so that made it all seem reasonable.

ALAN was lovely. I met a few new YA authors, and said hi to a couple I've met before. The nice thing about actually meeting people is that even if they are giants in the YA writing world, they are human-sized in person, with a bountiful share of human kindness. So, the next time I have a case of the shivery fears about, oh, life, wondering why I am not rich and famous like some other writers are, I will try to remember the human size of my own life, and cherish the difficult, human-sized failures I struggle with, as well as the occasional, modest, human-sized success that comes my way.

General warning: If it is late at night and you are alone in a hotel room in a big city, do not, I repeat, do not, watch the brain scene at the end of the third Hannibal Lector movie. Seriously. Stop now. Turn it off! You've been warned.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I hope that sound is not me falling and landing splat on my rear end on a New York City sidewalk, trying to get somewhere in a hurry and failing to maintain my dignity (wobbly as it is to begin with.)

As I get ready to leave for ALAN, I am thinking about failed and fallen books. I've read maybe three new books published this year by favorite YA authors that did not, in my opinion, measure up to past work. At first I was surprised--I could fail, and have, but surely not them! I felt vaguely shocked, not to mention disappointed. Then I thought, "Eh, so what." I will still eagerly await their next books.

Every author (with a few golden exceptions) walks a tightrope over a chasm of failure with each book, and even good authors occasionally tumble in. I am not sure if that is forgivable in today's YA market, where so much emphasis is placed on buzz buzz buzz and sales sales sales.

My books live in pretty much a buzz-free, sales-free zone, so I suppose I shouldn't go around saying "in today's market," as if I knew what that meant. I don't, really, except it sounds big and scary. In truth, it probably isn't much different from "yesterday's market" or "tomorrow's market."

Here, though, is something I can verify as true: despite my experience with failure, I still write each new book in a state of renewed innocence, believing I am standing firmly on the ground, ignorant of the long, pitiless fall just below my feet.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Hello-o-o-o-o-o-o Down There!

When I go to New York City for NCTE/ALAN, I will be staying in what I am sure is a perfectly lovely hotel. I made the mistake, though, of reading reader comments about the hotel on a website. While most people were quite happy with their stay, one person mentioned the 31st floor, with no hot water. And one person mentioned bed bugs.

Of course, I immediately had another anxiety attack.

I am scared of height--always have been--so regarding the first mention I sped right past the lack of hot water and focused on the number 31. 31!!!! Holy crap. It is a sign of my ongoing naivete that I never considered that I might be up in the clouds. Way up. (Have I mentioned that I hate flying, and this is why?)

I also did not think about bed bugs.

So now I am convinced it will be me and the bed bugs on the 95th floor, with no hot water.

To offset my ongoing mental crisis, I will mention a wonderful children's historical novel I read a couple of months ago, BLOOD ON THE RIVER: JAMES TOWN 1607, by Elisa Carbone. This is the story of a real boy, Samuel Collier, who really travelled from England to the new colony in America, and survived. Carbone has created much of his personal story, as little is known beyond the bare outline, but has used excellent research to draw a very realistic picture of life in James Town--the good and the bad--including the relationship of the Europeans with the Native Americans, the struggle to survive starvation, hardship and disease, and the leadership of Captain John Smith, a truly remarkable man. This would all only be factually interesting if Carbone had not made her characters, especially young Samuel Collier, come to full life. Samuel is utterly alive on the page, and through him I really experienced that early, rough life in colonized America. Wonderful.

See, I feel better already, just thinking about this young boy and his incredible bravery. Maybe some of it will rub off on me. (And scare away the bed bugs!)

Friday, November 2, 2007

It Might Be True

I know that storytelling, before folks got frisky with pens and pencils, used to be an entirely oral affair. Hunters and gatherers huddled around the fire to hear a good tale about snakes and bears, about good gods and evil gods. Homer proclaimed his masterpiece again and again to approving crowds, in ancient Greek, no less. Etc etc. Then printing came along and people started reading stories instead of listening to someone expound with golden vocals.

This is where I come in.

For centuries, people could write their stuff down, then comfortably disappear into the woodwork, keeping pleasantly invisible and mute. Oh, there were always a few who liked to yak it out in front of strangers, but for the shy, retiring introvert, the woodwork thing was a pretty good deal. Now, though, at least in the YA world, one must not only write, one must present. Proclaim. Lalalalalalala! Be a star.

I mention this because later in November I will be on a panel at ALAN, which I am sure stands for something, and which is part of NCTE, which I think means National Council of Teachers of English. Anyway, ALAN is the young adult literature part of the deal, and I got an invite.

Have I mentioned that I am terrified of public speaking? Have I mentioned woodwork? Why why why is this necessary horror being foisted on one so fragile as I?

While it might be true that the really, really true--historically, organically--storytellers enjoy the telling, and that this is the true, really true, inherent nature of true artists, I am part of the second wave, the cheaters who retreated to paper.

It is not that I am not grateful to ALAN and to my publisher. I am grateful. I am. I am I am I am I am I am I am.

Now if only the shivery fears would go away . . .