Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Brunch for March 6

Today’s Sunday Brunch identifies the children’s book author who won an Oscar last week, takes a peek at the correspondence between two major twentieth-century authors, and asks if bookstores need a bill of rights. Oh, and then there’s the little matter of a twenty-six-year-old literary newbie making a million dollars on Amazon.com….


IS THIS THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE?

I can’t stop thinking about this article and video clip from the Huffington Post.

It concerns twenty-six-year-old Amanda Hocking who, a year ago at this time, was an aspiring writer of young adult novels. Rejected by all the major publishers, she decided to release her novels as e-books. Available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble for prices ranging from ninety-nine cents to $2.99 each, Ms. Hocking’s books have become very successful.

How successful?

In less than a year, the young author has become a millionaire.

Yeah, you read that right.

Granted, Ms. Hocking writes in a genre that is currently huge with young readers -- romantic horror. (Many, many readers compare her work to the TWILIGHT series by Stephenie Meyer.) But how does someone go from an unpublished wannabe to a bestselling author in less than a year?

It would be interesting to know how these books were promoted and publicized.

I’d also like to know if her success is a fluke, or if any other young-adult authors are experiencing this type of success. Heck, even if an author sold one-tenth the number of e-books Ms. Hocking does, they’d be considered a literary smash.

What does all this portend for the future? Will other aspiring authors, tired of dealing with the whims of the publishing industry, begin releasing their own manuscripts as e-books, thereby “eliminating the middle-man”? And how would that affect the quality of young adult literature? The main criticism of the Hocking books is that they’re poorly edited, contain many copy-editing errors, rely on repeated pet stock phrases -- all elements that would probably be corrected if they’d been professionally edited and published by a mainstream press.

I haven’t read any of Amanda Hocking’s books, as I do not own a Kindle or Nook.

I’m the guy who rails against e-books as opposed to paper copies.

But when I read about Amanda’s success (a millionaire! at twenty-six!, I’m beginning to think she’s a pretty smart cookie. Isn’t it better to have thousands of people reading and loving your words in an e-book than to have a whole file cabinet full of manuscripts that no one will ever read?


COUNTDOWN

So many successfully self-published novels eventually get picked up by mainstream publishers.

Christopher Paolini’s ERAON comes immediately to mind.

Now I’m wondering how many mainstream NY publishers (including those who once rejected her work) will soon be knocking on Hocking’s door, offering her huge offers to release her novels in hardcover.

I think it’s inevitable and am counting the days till we see a press release in Publishers Weekly or elsewhere, stating, “E-BOOK PHENOM OFFERED MILLION $$$ DEAL FOR YA HORROR SERIES.”


OSCARS

Gee, what’s a reality-show-freak like me supposed to do tonight with every station running some competing show? There’s AMAZING RACE on CBS, some new restaurant show and CELEBRITY APPRENTICE on NBC, CHOPPED ALL-STARS on the Food Network… Oh, for the good old days of last week when the only show we had to worry about was the Oscars. And our worry was well-founded. Has there ever been a more poorly-hosted ceremony with so many predictable winners? The highlight for me was seeing children’s book author Shaun Tan win an Oscar for his animated short, THE LOST THING. By the way, “The Lost Thing” is the second of three stories presented in Mr. Tan’s new book for kids, LOST & FOUND, which was just published this past Tuesday. I haven’t seen the book yet, but if it’s even half as good as Tan’s THE ARRIVAL or TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA, it’s going to be a treat.

Is Shaun Tan the first children’s book creator to win an Oscar in the category of Best Animated Short Film? You would think that many children’s book illustrators would work in animated film, but I checked this Wikipedia list and didn’t see any familiar names among the winners. …But then again, I am not as familiar with illustrators as I am writers. Did I miss anyone?

Incidentally, I was tickled to see that THE CRUNCH BIRD won an Oscar in 1971. I never saw the animated film -- never knew one existed -- but in 1971, the “crunch bird”was the most repeated joke at my junior high. Now I know where it came from!

Anyway, congratulations to Shaun Tan for winning that Oscar. Can’t wait to read the book!


A BOOKSTORE BILL OF RIGHTS

Should bookstores have a Bill of Rights posted on their walls? After reading this blog about customers who use bookstores “as showrooms” for the titles they’ll later purchase online, I think it might be a good idea.

What items would you include on a Booksellers’ Bill of Rights?

NOTE: PJ Grath pointed out that the above link does not work. I can't get it to work either. Until I figure out the solution, you can access the article via this url: http://brucejquiller.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/newspapers-bookstores-and-bezos/


SMALL PERSONS. I PREFER THEM WITHOUT WINGS.

One of the most talked-about titles of this new publishing season is SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS by Ellen Booream. It’s the story of Mellie Turpin who, as a young child, had a fairy friend named Fidius. (Correction: according to Fidius, “We are not fairies. We are Small Persons with Wings.”) After causing Mellie to become a grade school laughingstock, Fidius disappears -- not returning until the protagonist is thirteen years old and moves into an inherited inn and tavern overrun with fair -- er, Small Persons with Wings. The plot hinges on a hidden moonstone ring that has magical properties, a mannequin made up to be a nefarious realtor, and a grandfather imprisoned in a grandfather clock. While reading the book, I could already imagine the CGI special effects that will be employed in the inevitable movie -- the old man turning back and forth into a clock, Mellie transformed into a frog, the circle of Small Persons with Wings spinning through the air -- even as I found myself not caring much about the magic that moves the plot. I wasn’t interested in the history of the fairies or their plight. Take a look at this passage:

The Parvi’s first, true magic, the Magica Vera, gave us skills we needed to live, bu also it protected us from spells. We saw through all lies and illusion. This was our salvation when sorcerers were everywhere, so many centuries ago. In your year 453, the last of them helped us invent the Magica Artificia, but our native magic prevented us from seeing the beauties it created. We cast the Magica Vera out of ourselves, transferring it into the Gemmaluna so we would have it at need. But we rarely used the Gemma, and three hundred years later we were giving it to you, the Turpini

Now if you’re a fantasy fan, you’re going love all that convoluted magica stuff…but it nearly put me to sleep. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the more “human” side of this story -- the characterizations of plump, prickly Mellie and her offbeat parents, as well as the boy next door. The sarcastic first-person narration and the humorous, pitch-perfect dialogue are pretty great too. But add in the magic stuff, and the book becomes an uneven mix of reality and magic. Some readers may find it the perfect blend, but I suspect that true fantasy addicts will find the novel too grounded, while fans of realistic fiction will complain that the whole thing’s a little too twee.


A TABLE FOR SMALL PERSONS

Here is the Table of Contents from SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS.

Notice anything unusual?


While the title of each chapter is listed, there are no corresponding page numbers.

At first it struck me as odd but, the more I thought about, the more I realized it probably isn’t truly necessary to have a page number listed after each chapter. It may be just as easy for the reader to “flip through” the book to find the chapter, rather than go through page-by-page looking for the number.

I like tables of contents because I enjoy seeing the specific titles of chapters…but I seldom utilize them to find anything within a book. Do you?


“WHAT A GAL!

Last Sunday I blogged about Eleanor Cameron’s “Julia Redfern” books, a series of autobiographical novels that were written out of sequence. Since I only had one of these books -- A ROOM MADE OF WINDOWS -- in my collection, I decided I’d try to add the other volumes as inexpensive copies became available.

I then did an internet search and found a copy of JULIA AND THE HAND OF GOD, the second book in the series which wasn’t inexpensive because it was autographed and included a personal letter from the author tipped in.

I didn’t really have the money (story of my life) but I decided to buy the book anyway (the other story of my life), spending money I didn’t have on a book I couldn’t afford (the real story of my life) because I couldn’t resist reading the letter that came with the book.

The letter, written on December 3, 1959, was written by Eleanor Cameron to fellow children’s book writer Doris Gates.


The book arrived yesterday and it was absolutely fascinating to read the included letter. It made me wish I could read the entire correspondence between these two important writers.

Ms. Cameron describes Ms. Gates’ previous letter as “so full of meat and vitality…so full of your particular personality” that her husband “was moved to say when he put it down, ‘What a gal!’”

The letter, which discusses both authors’ current projects, contains the usual writer’s lament: “Why will I never learn that this is always possible, that each book is a completely new experience, will not go with ease simply because others have preceded it, and that I will always seem to myself to never have written before. Something has been learned from each book – yes, but there is so much still to be learned, limitless expanses, that I am always an amateur.”

There is much talk about Virginia Woolf’s novels, the role of women writers, a complaint about “novels that were fairly good in content – but written so flatly, so without evocation, vividness, dimension. <…> And this is what is lacking in so many children’s books.” Mrs. Cameron goes on to praise Lucy Boston’s “Greene Knowe” series and Mary Norton’s “Borrowers” books as exceptions to this rule. Ms. Cameron adds that she’d recently read THE TREASURE OF GREEN KNOWE to her mother (who lived with Cameron’s family) “and she was enchanted.” It was the third time Eleanor herself had read the novel and “for the third time I make respectful, wistful obeisance.”

Ms. Cameron ends the letter by saying that if Doris Gates would come to visit “Mother says…she would be able to do nothing but sit in the background and listen. Well, she might find it difficult, what with all the things we would be bursting to toss back and forth, to squeeze in a word….” She adds that her fourteen-year-old son “says that at parties given by our group, everything goes so fast that by the time he finally does get his word in, that subject of conversatioin has been left so far behind that nobody knows what he’s talking about!”

Wouldn’t it be fun to have been at one of Eleanor Cameron’s parties? Or to listen to a conversation between her and Doris Gates?

I’m so glad I got to witness part of their “written conversation” by reading this one letter.


LIBRARY CUTBACKS LED TO A CLASSIC NOVEL

In her letter, Eleanor Cameron references the novel THE CAT AND MRS. CARY, which was one of the few fantasies that Doris Gates published during a long literary career that included animal stories, retellings of Greek myths, and realistic novels. As an author, she broke new ground writing early books with African American characters (LITTLE VIC, 1951) and dealing with social issues such as criminal justice (MY BROTHER MIKE, 1948) and the plight of migrant workers. Employed as a librarian in Fresno, California, Doris Gates had the opportunity to visit migrant schools and meet children who had been uprooted by the Depression and Midwestern Dust Bowl. When the economy caused a cutback in library hours, Ms. Gates used her extra day off to write books for children…including BLUE WILLOW, the story of Janey Larkin, a Texas girl who has roamed the country with her migrant-worker family for five years before temporarily settling in a Fresno shack. During their travels, Janey has carried a blue willow plate which she plans to display when her family finds a permanent home. The symbolism of the china plate, the dimensional portrayals of the family members, and a solid sense of place make this realistic novel – a sort of junior GRAPES OF WRATH – an important work in the history of children’s literature. It was named a Newbery Honor in 1941, the year that Armstrong Sperry’s CALL IT COURAGE won the top prize. Although Sperry’s lean, mythic novel is considered a classic by many, its remote location and emotionally-distant hero leave some readers cold. Amid many good customer reviews on Amazon, there is also a contingent that refers to the CALL IT COURAGE as “one of the most boring books in the world,” “one of the slowest books I've ever read,” and “so boring that it actually takes courage to turn the page.” I wonder if BLUE WILLOW wouldn’t have made a stronger Newbery winner, for its immediacy, strong characterization, and for shedding light on an issue of great social significance. It certainly would have been a daring choice for its era.

Although she did not win the Newbery, the Fresno Public Library honored the author by naming its children’s department the “Doris Gates Room.” This month the Fresno Public Library is celebrating Cesar Chavez Day with a display called “The Migrant Experience : Books for Children and Teens.”

Strangely, BLUE WILLOW by Doris Gates -- one of the first and most-important novels about migrant workers ever published for kids -- is not among the books included.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll be back for more!

22 comments:

hschinske said...

Peter, that's a wonderful find! I hope you'll consider sending photocopies of the letter to the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, which holds Eleanor Cameron's manuscripts, and to the University of Oregon, which holds the Doris Gates papers.

Helen Schinske

P. J. Grath said...

Peter, will you recheck your link under BOOKSTORE BILL OF RIGHTS? It didn't get me anywhere. Thanks.

Bybee said...

I have to agree about Call It Courage. I'd go for Blue Willow over that book any day, any year, no matter what my age.

Aisha said...

As someone shopping a novel with my agent at the moment this topic is very interesting to me- self publishing has its pros and cons I guess.

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Anonymous said...

> I haven’t read any of Amanda Hocking’s books, as I do not own a Kindle or Nook.

That's no excuse.

Both Amazon and BN offer FREE reader programs for the PC, so you don't need a Kindle or Nook to read their e-books

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lin said...

Sorry Peter, your Huffington Post link doesn't work either. I didn't think much of the article because it didn't say anything of how Ms. Hocking got such astounding sales. Much more informative was an earlier Huff piece with an interview:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tonya-plank/meet-mega-bestselling-ind_b_804685.html
In it, Ms. Hocking says she didn't have a marketing plan, but is very active in social networks and sends out ARCs to book bloggers (electronic arcs, I guess?) Wonder if she can send them via Kindle, or does she send out pdfs? She says she is looking for a professional editor.

I'll stick up for "Call It Courage." I loved it as a kid; maybe because I could relate a lot more to the setting than I could to Central Valley California. Sharks! Wild pigs! Cute faithful dogs! I find that Mafatu is about as emotional as Karana (of Island of the Blue Dolphins). Oh, those stoic exotic islanders.

William Joyce hasn't won an Oscar, but is very involved in filmmaking according to Wikipedia, and is working with some top names. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Joyce_(writer)

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Anonymous said...

Blue Willow is one of my all-time favorite Newberys so I'm delighted to see you mention it. IMO it's a quiet little classic. You also made the same connection I did, which I've seldom seen mentioned. I've always called Blue Willow the children's Grapes of Wrath.

I love the works of both Cameron and Gates - two fine writers indeed. Cameron's The Green and Burning Tree is wonderful if you've not read it.

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