Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yet Another Example...

...of what not to do when you get a bad review. Report the reviewers to the FBI.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Great and the Weird

Great news: the nominees for a brand new award in non-fiction were announced, and my friend Tanya Lee Stone's book, the fabulous Almost Astronauts is on the short list! If you're in the mood for some girl power, you should check it out.

Weird news: Kirkus Reviews magazine is kaput. Dead. Done. Out of print. If you're not a book person, this won't mean that much to you. If you are a book person, well, it might not mean that much to you, either. Kirkus is -- er, was -- a review source for librarians, a source best known for its huge number of reviews and its overabundance of snark. I don't know how I feel about its demise. Yeah, yeah, I know I just blogged a few weeks ago about how writers should avoid looking for reviews, that they're for readers not writers, yadda yadda. But even if I think it's problematic for writers to read their own reviews, it is important that they actually get some reviews. And this means that there is one less source for reviews in the world. Also, because the publication was meant for readers -- librarians specifically -- but also for consumers, as the reviews are posted at various book websites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., this means that there's one less source for individual readers to rely on when they want to choose a book.

So...I don't know. I've gotten some great reviews from Kirkus's stable of anonymous snarksters, and some not-so-great ones, but that's not the point. I like what Alex Flinn said about it:"The end of Kirkus is like the death of an ex-boyfriend who was kind of a jerk, but with whom one has a few fun memories. Like, I'm glad I didn't marry the guy, but that doesn't mean I wish him dead...For all their flaws, Kirkus did review a lot of books, and in a competitive market, even a bad review is better than silence."


-- L.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Some of My Favorite Things

Roses! Kittens! Kittens with roses! Interviews, like this one here. And more Bad Apple reviews, including a star from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. Woo-hoo!

And of course, other people's books. (Reading is my reward for writing.) I was happy to see that both Francisco Stork's riveting Marcelo in the Real World and Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me on their Notable Children's Books of 2009 list. The NYT says that When You Reach Me is a "thrilling puzzle: a complex mystery, a work of historical fiction, and a story of friendship." And though it is all these things, it's so subtly, delicately written, that you don't necessarily notice the complexities as you're reading. RS keeps about 90 balls in the air and makes it look easy. It's a book I enjoyed reading as an adult, but one I would have been mad for as a kid.

About Marcelo: I have to admit that when I first heard about this book, I didn’t have much interest in it. (Did we need another Curious Incident?) But Sarah Aronson recommended it to me, so I picked it up. She was right: this book is not a rehash of Curious Incident. And simple plot descriptions simply don’t do it justice. The novel, about a young man with an Asperger-like condition forced to work in his father's law firm for a summer because his father wishes him to become a part of the “real world,” is wonderful. There are so many things about this novel I just love — the voice, the vivid secondary characters, the seamlessly unfurling story that reads in part like a thriller — I could go on and on. The novel takes seriously the formation – and erosion — of personal morality. And it takes seriously the possibility of love and commitment between people most would believe too young and too damaged to be capable of it. And though it’s cliché to say so, I could easily see this being a movie. One of my favorites of the last year.

That said, I’ve got a teetering stack of books that I’ve got to plow through, so I might have a few more favorites to talk about over the next month. (Like Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, a controversial book for more reasons than one. But I’ll save that for another day).

-- L.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You

Okay, here it is, the new website! Please comment/email if you like it. Took tons of work to do all this reorganization, and my designer could use the love.

Speaking of love, I want to thank bloggers Jenn and Kim for their recent interviews. They were both exceedingly patient with the perpetually-disorganized me, and asked some great questions.

Also, thanks to Jennifer Hubert of Reading Rants who posted this about Bad Apple: “Cleverly told in a full-on snarky tone that hides a smile behind its snarl, BAD APPLE is a thoroughly modern and highly entertaining anti-fairy tale that is as sweet and sour as the Granny Smith on the cover.”

About reviews. There are some, like the above, that make you so grateful to be understood that you feel like you owe the reviewers a cut of your profits. There are the mixed kind that can rankle, but don’t wound, at least not deeply, and not for long.

And then there are those other ones.

Last week, I found a new review, or rather, an old review that I’d blissfully missed. I don’t even know why I was scratching around the Internet, why I opened the document. (Satan??? Is that you???) But I did open it. Yikes. I’ve had my share of critics, but apart from online commentators who call themselves things like monkeybutt432, no one has ever been so spitefully, sneeringly dismissive about one of my books before. At least, that’s how it seemed in the moment. After I read this review, I felt like someone had broken into my house, slapped me in the face and then peed on my living room rug. I responded to these feelings with much howling and wailing, rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth.

Now that some time has passed, I just feel stupid. Not because of the review, but because of my own overheated reaction to it. No, I didn’t pull an Alice Hoffman and twitter the reviewer’s phone number and encourage fans to crank her. I didn’t spit on the reviewer a la Richard Ford, nor scrounge up a copy of the reviewer’s book and put a bullet through it. I didn’t scour the Internet looking for the reviewer’s blog and post I WILL HATE YOU TILL THE DAY I DIE the way the Alain de Botton did. And I didn’t slap her like Stanley Crouch slapped one of his critics (though I must admit I understand these impulses all too well).

No, I did nothing so Gawker-worthy. But I did flap around my house like a dyspeptic duck. I did let it ruin my dinner, and my evening. The worst part is that I violated my own rules. I did this to myself.

Back in 2006-2007, I had three books published in three different genres, one book right after the other. I spent months and months paralyzed by the onslaught of critical feedback. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. I ate my way through a mountain of Pirate’s Booty, and got a booty the size of a mountain.

Here’s the kicker – though I received dozens and dozens of professional reviews that year, only one was an outright pan. Just one. The rest of the reviews were pretty good, and some were so packed with praise they read as if my mom had written them. I got lots of nice letters from readers. So why was I so terrified, so tortured, so paralyzed? What was WRONG with me?

I think it’s because reviews are meant for readers, not writers. In a perfect world, writers wouldn’t have to see their own reviews at all.

I know. It feels weird to even type that out. Don’t writers want to know how their work is received? Yes. We do. We crave it, absolutely. But I don’t think we’ll get the things we need to write the next book from those whose job it is to rip apart the previous one.

I’ve heard people advise writers to try and learn from their reviews, and I’ve heard writers claim to do this. And I don’t get it. Firstly, by the time a review is published, the book is done. Even if a reviewer is correct in his or her assessment that the book is, to paraphrase Anne Lamott, a stupid, self-indulgent sack of spider puke, what can I do about it after the fact? (Note to self: do not be stupid and self-indulgent! Stay away from spiders!)

Then there’s the fact that I believe writing a book teaches one only how to write that particular book. I’ve published seven books and written several other manuscripts. The process of writing of every single one of them was completely, utterly different. No review — no matter how intelligent or insightful — can ever help me with the creation of a new book. That’s what writing groups, editors, insomnia, outlines, research, revisions, coffee, etc. are for.

And then there’s the fact that it’s a crapshoot as to who actually reviews your book. What if your vampire title is assigned to a person who is suddenly, violently sick of vampires? Or your funny book is handed to a person who doesn’t key into your sense of humor? Sometimes the difference between a good review and a not-so-good one is simply the desk on which the book lands.

I think the only thing a writer can learn from reading reviews is how to deal with reading reviews. For the last year, my way of dealing has been to read as few of them as possible. I do look at pieces sent by my editor or friends, and I love getting emails and letters directly from readers. But no Amazon. No Goodreads. No Shelfari. No Technorati. No Google Alerts.

It was difficult to do this at first, difficult to change my own mindset, difficult to convince myself that no, I really didn’t have to know what every single person on the Internet thought — or didn’t think — of my book(s). But I did manage to shut out a lot of the noise. And it worked. I slowly emerged from my slump. I took cooking classes. I made lots of homemade soup. Soup is warm and delicious.

But, last week, I was feeling happy and safe, and I violated my own rules. I let my fingers do the Googling. And I got burned. One of the interview questions I get asked most often is what advice I’d give to teenagers who find themselves the victim of online bullying because I write so much about the subject. One of the things I say is that enough nastiness is going to find you, so you never go out looking for more.

Yeah. I know. I’m an idiot. Shut up.

After the wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the embarrassment that followed, I soothed myself by reading Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, a title that seemed appropriate to my melodramatic mood. This novel is a funny but achingly moving book that almost begs to be read out loud. Because it features a disaffected 18-year-old narrator with a powerful and engaging voice, and because it’s set in NYC, it’s hard not to compare to Catcher In The Rye, but I found it richer and more absorbing than Catcher (and I say this as a Catcher fan.) The story made me glad that there were writers like Peter Cameron in the world, hopefully ignoring what few critics he has.

On her blog, the lovely Shannon Hale suggests — through gritted teeth — that no publicity is bad publicity. That writers should try to be grateful even for the attentions of Angry People Who Type. That review space is so limited these days, it’s good that our work provokes enough passion that certain reviewers are compelled to use that precious space to protect the public from hacks like us. Because that means that, at the very least, our work is getting attention.

I don’t think I’m as evolved as Shannon is. I’m not sure I can bring myself to thank the Angry People Who Type. But I’ll be happy enough to enjoy my reading and my dinner, and then get back to work.

-- L.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bad Apple

I know, I know, I haven't posted much (uh, at all lately). I'm working on a new novel and a complete site redesign so things will be easier to find. That will be coming soon. In the meantime...

It's official! It's the pub date of my new novel, BAD APPLE! I'm uploading a picture of the cover here, because I love it so much:

Bad Apple

Here's the description:

For Tola Riley, life is not a fairy tale, it only feels like one. She’s got evil classmates, a runaway dad, a wicked stepmother, a possible Prince Charming, and her very own troll. But it’s only when someone accuses her of having an affair with her art teacher, her whole world turns into something out of Grimm’s. Because the person accusing her is her own mother.

"If I really wanted to open up, I'd confess that I really am the liar everyone believes I am."

High-school junior Tola has green hair, a nose ring, an attitude problem, and a fondness for fairy tales, which are a great escape from real life. Everyone thinks she's crazy; everyone says so. Everyone except Mr. Mymer, her art teacher. He gets her paintings and lets her hang out in the art room during lonely lunch periods.

But then rumors start flying and Tola is suddenly the center of a scandal. The whole town is judging her—even her family. When Mr. Mymer is suspended for what everyone thinks is an affair, she has no choice but to break her silence. Fairy tales won't help her this time . . . so how can she tell the truth? And, more importantly, will anyone believe her?

“…by turns hilarious and touching, almost heart-poundingly suspenseful. The protagonist, who is unconventional, insightful and full of angst, charms, and readers will be hoping for her success.” — Kirkus Reviews

“…a different perspective on the whole student-teacher affair. The ending was absolutely fabulous, probably the best part of the book, and had me in fits of laughter. “ —