Monday, September 17, 2007

Let's talk about books

Do we ever talk about anything else?

I am currently in the middle of my "award-winning middle grade" education. I kinda skipped over that area when I was a kid, since, by the time I was old enough to appreciate the award winners and had read all of the Ramonas and Fudges, I was jumping to adult books. I still read YA and middle grade but I really missed out on a big chunk. So I'm going back and reading what I missed. Right now I'm on hiatus as I read a few urgent manuscripts and get through some of the submission pile, but my next venture is The Giver, followed by Holes.

What is everyone else reading? I want to know.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Kidlit Drinks and other miscellany

I went to my first Kidlit Drinks night tonight. Finally! I've missed a bunch of them, for various reasons (from having other plans, to laziness, to being sick, to just plain forgetting) and I finally made it to one. I had forgotten it was tonight and I had some reading to do for tomorrow's editorial meeting, but Alvina asked if I was going and I said "screw it, I'm not missing another one" and I went.

It was great to see and talk to Betsy Bird, aka the lovely Fuse #8. I also finally got the chance to meet Cheryl Klein in person. We've interacted via our blogs and over email, and we have a few mutual friends, but since I kept missing drink nights, we only just met. She is awesome and very friendly (but I already knew that).

I also re-met Jenny Han, author of Shug, and was introduced to her fellow Longstocking, Siobhan Vivian. They rocked my world with compliments and hilarity and I had a blast. I mean, c'mon, who doesn't love being told they have great skin?! I mentioned the supreme curse that hangs over my head (you know, the heterosexual bubble that holds in all the straight men and unavailable/not-my-type gay men and deters all of the potential loves of my life) and they were SHOCKED. I mean, they were like "hell no, you rock!" And seriously -- who doesn't love compliments? So I gave them a mission: find me a guy. All I gave them in terms of "my type" were "I like a guy with a baby face but it's not a deal-breaker." HAHA! Oh and I also said if they could find Orlando Bloom or Zac Efron, that would be the best thing ever.

I was glad I went tonight. I had some great conversations, had some book-angst validated, and met (and re-met) some groovy chicks. And afterward, I was de-virginized to the Pinkberry experience. And let me just say, YUM! Tastes like vanilla yogurt, looks like fro-yo, comes with fresh fruit and/or cereal toppings. DELISH!! Thanks ladies, for a wonderful evening and for introducing me to such yumminess!

below this line is me blathering on and on about what types of books I like to read/would like to acquire. You can stop reading at this point if you don't really care.

Later tonight, while I should be reading for work tomorrow, I got to thinking about other things. I have an agent lunch tomorrow (which reminds me, I wanted to post about agent lunches -- well, some other time) and my boss and I were talking about how to pitch to agents the kind of books I am interested in. So now I've been thinking about what I actually AM interested in. I mean, I always had a pretty good idea but I never really went deeper, with examples. So what do I like? Well, I want to work on books that I would enjoy reading if I picked them up in the store. The reason I wanted to be an editor is because I wanted to bring to children what books had brought to me. It's also (one of) the reason I want to eventually have my writing published.

So what do I like? What am I looking for in terms of submissions? Well I think I'm pretty open. I was told when I started my editorial job that I was "the sci-fi/fantasy guy" because I was the only person who really read genre books for pleasure. But going deeper, I don't love all sci-fi/fantasy. I'm open to the lot, but the more hardcore genre stuff can be tricky and its easier to convince the committee to publish something if it has potential to cross over to a non-genre reader. In terms of fantasy, I love dark urban fantasy (DUF) and I think there is a definite audience for that in the YA market. Folks like Holly Black and Stephenie Meyer have proven that. I do love some high fantasy but it definitely depends. A lot of the high fantasy that I've read (aside from classics) have been very special to me, and very random selections. And it seems they are often adult. For instance, Lynn Flewelling's Tamir Triad, or Mercedes Lackey's Last Herald-Mage Trilogy. Though I do love me some Tamora Pierce (Magic Circle/Circle Opens). Sci-fi...that's tougher. I've always had a fear of outer space but books are different -- I guess I prefer more dystopian futuristic stuff than I do space operas, though I still need to figure out what is out there in the children's world. Any book suggestions (aside from Ender's Game which I know I need to read) are greatly appreciated.

The one area I always seem to forget is paranormal/horror. Paranormal can sometimes be covered under DUF, but I always forget horror. I LOVED R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike growing up, and I'm a huge fan of Darren Shan's Demonata series now. Books that really scare you are a real job and I don't think there is much out there. I wonder sometimes if horror has been eaten by the DUF craze, but I don't think it is entirely dead. There's got to be some way to resurrect it.

And literary YA -- ah literary. I never considered myself a literary reader, but it is YA authors like Sara Zarr and Julie Anne Peters who have really opened my eyes to this type of writing. I love books that really cut to the core of humanity and emotions...and I love it when they make me cry. And in the case of Julie Anne Peters -- GLBT literary YA is something that really hits home because it is something I wish I had more of growing up.

And then I get to middle grade and new options just open wide up. One thing's for sure, I love boy-targeted action/adventure/sci-fi/fantasy. Even before I was in editorial, I have been obsessed with MG boy stuff. Not just Harry either. AniMorphs was one of my favorite series and it came out when I was high school (through college -- and I read every single book, including all of the offshoots). Stuff like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale and Gregor the Overlander really thrill me and I'd love to acquire something like that. And I guess, being the only male editor in the children's dept, they're looking to me to be the guy who knows boy-stuff. That I can do. I'm currently trying to make my way through boy fiction that I have yet to read, just so I know what is out there.

So what do I say to agents when I'm talking about what I like? Well I guess I have my examples. DUF, but I'm not going to shy away from the challenges of a more classic fantasy and sci-fi...if it is worth it, it'll show. Paranormal, horror, literary YA, GLBT YA, middle grade boy-oriented action/adventure with fantasy/sci-fi elements. I don't know why I felt the need to blog about all of this. I guess because it's me, talking about books that I love, so I wanted to share the types of books I love. And my hopes and wishes about what I'd love to acquire. I'm still looking for my first acquisition, and once I find it and it's all official, you know I'm going to have to post about it. When it happens. And in the meantime, I will just keep reading what I love and looking for projects that I will love just as much.

And as I said, if anyone has any suggestions for books I should be reading/have read in these categories, please feel free to let me know. I am frequently shocked by what I should have (but sadly haven't) read and am not afraid to admit that (because I have read a lot in my life and am working to correct my oversights). So suggest away. If I've read it, I'll say so. And maybe one day, if I can figure out how to do a cut tag like they have on LiveJournal, I may share my "Books I've Read" list so others can get a glimpse into T.S.'s reading background. That's right -- I'm a huge nerd and I keep a list of all the books I've read (and finished - partials don't count) in my lifetime (though I'm sure some are missing and I continue to add as I am reminded, as well as when I finish a book).

Ok, back to reading this manuscript. Cola can only keep me awake so long before my body shuts down and I screw over a fellow editor with sloppy feedback, so I better stop procrastinating. G'nite folks!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Percy Jackson and the Signature of Doom

In my quest to expand my knowledge of the children's book world, I've been trying to read a slew of books that I keep hearing about, that I know I would love, but that I haven't read yet. One of those books was Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1: The Lightning Thief. I'd heard great things about it and when it first came out it had greatly intrigued me -- but I had only ever managed to get my hands on a mangled version of the galley (while I was still working in marketing) which I quickly discarded, assuming I could find someone with the connections to get me a finished copy. It never happened so about three weeks or maybe a month ago, I was at B&N and I impulse bought it.

It is one of those books that I knew I would love and one of the types of books I hope to find and acquire one day. I love boy-oriented action-y, adventure-y middle grade that has a fantasy/sci-fi twist somehow. I read AniMorphs from start to finish when it came out, even though I was in high school and later college, and when I'm in the children's section of the bookstore I gravitate toward books like the Pendragon or Gregor the Overlander series.

(warning, this post may contain spoilers from here on out)

I ended up lending Percy out right away, because I knew I wouldn't have the chance to read it and the person I lent it to was a quick reader. Well she got it back to me post haste, but there was a problem. Quite close to the end there was a signature that repeated. Oh no! She was eager to finish it and I knew it had to be remedied because I had actually paid money for this book. That and I would eventually want to read it myself and I couldn't do so with a mixed up signature. So this Friday was the first chance I had to get down to the B&N in Chelsea and exchange it. And since it was a long weekend, I decided to start reading, figuring I'd get some manuscript reading in on Sunday and Monday and finish whatever was left of Percy on Tuesday.

Well I'm done already and I loved it! I absolutely loved it! There were some parts that seemed SO derivative of Harry Potter, which I will list below, but the story had so many unique, fun elements that it really didn't matter to me. And I suspect that it matters even less to the young readers who are devouring these books like candy. As someone who was obsessed with Greek Mythology when I was a kid, this was a real treat, and I was really glad that Percy ended up being the son of Poseidon and not Zeus. I definitely predicted it WAY before it was confirmed (what do you want? It is a kid's book and I'm a Greek Myth nut) but I am glad they didn't go the obvious "son of the king of the gods" route. I also really enjoyed how Riordan wrote Percy's interactions with Poseidon. I felt a little tingle when the Sea God said "Whatever else you do, know that you are mine." It was such a great way to express that paternal love without showing favoritism (which is forbidden to the gods).

I am a big Percy Jackson supporter now and can't wait to read the next one. The Potter similarities eventually slipped away as Percy's quest unfolded but I will list them so others may comment on them or add more that I might have forgotten or missed:

Harry goes away to Hogwart's
Percy goes away to Half-Blood Hill Summer Camp

Harry's parents are killed and he is raised by the horrible Dursley's
Percy's father is absent and he is raised by his mother and horrible stepfather Smelly Gabe

Hogwart's students are sorted into four houses (representing the four school founders) and Harry is sorted into chivalrous Gryffindor
Half-Blood Hill campers are "sorted" into twelve cabins (representing the twelve Olympians) and Percy is "sorted" (eventually) into one of the "top three" cabins

Hogwart's has a bad house -- Slytherin
Half-Blood Hill has a bad cabin -- Ares

Harry shows great skill at broom-riding and leads his team to victory during a Quidditch match
Percy shows great skill at combat and leads his team to victory during Capture the Flag

Harry has a comedic, somewhat awkward, funny-haired best friend named Ron Weasley
Percy has a comedic, somewhat awkward, funny-haired best friend named Grover

Harry has a female friend who is arrogantly intelligent but means well -- Hermione
Percy has a female friend who is arrogantly intelligent but means well -- Annabeth

Harry has a kind headmaster (Dumbledore) but a grumpy teacher (Snape)
Percy has a grumpy camp director (Dionysus) but a kind teacher (Chiron)

Harry is hunting for the Sorcerer's Stone, which his enemy also seeks.
Percy is hunting for Zeus's Master Bolt, which his enemy has already stolen.

Harry faces a three-headed dog to get his item
Percy faces a three-headed dog to get his item (although, to be fair, Cerberus is part of the Hades mythos so he kinda HAD to be there)

Anyway, despite the fact that I made a list, I highly recommend these books to kids and any readers who enjoy middle grade boy adventure-fantasy. It is obvious that Rick Riordan knows his Greek Mythology, or did a lot of research. How else would he have been able to come up with all of the great ways to blend the legends and the creatures into the modern world? Pick up this book if you haven't already. So very worth it!