Oat Bran, Pixie Sticks & the James Tiptree Jr. Awards

I’ve been sour on YA & Fantasy (and especially YA Fantasy!) books for a while now. They all seemed so same-same; plucky young post-feminist heroine, fistfights and martial arts, boy sidekick, evil wizards, talking animals, fairies, “the magic is strong in you”, lovestory, yawn-wawn. All I wanted to read was realistic fiction of the kind I had rejected as Bor-ing during my undergrad years. I read Anita Brookner and Susanna Moore and Alison Lurie and Margot Livesey. I didn’t want bright ideas or magical worlds, I just wanted a straight narrative, good prose, and human relationships. I read these books without even looking at the covers (library bindings) or reading the jackets, like a  pixie-stick junkie going on an oat-bran bender.

I was working on a fantasy-ish story of my own, and I think that’s what gave me the x-ray spex of predictability. But now I’m done with that story and working on something much closer to the real world, and the last thing I want to read about is dreary human relationships. Give me new ideas! Give me alternate worlds! Give me zombies!

Carrie Ryan’s post-zombie ‘The Forest of Hands and Teeth’ (top contender for creepiest/best-title ever) turned it around for me. There has been so much good-looking stuff coming out while I wasn’t paying attention. I’ve just filled up my reserve list at the library with all of the titles I can’t wait to read. Starting with:

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson (l) and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (r)"
The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson (l) and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (r)

Thanks to Chris Barzak (author of an Honor book himself) for posting this year’s James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List and getting me all excited.

Sadly, no longer 95 cents

circa 1933

What I wouldn’t give for 95 cent books today. Of course, it’s not quite as good a deal as it first appears to the modern tightwad. In 1933, 95 cents was anywhere from $15.78 to $99.11 in today’s dollars. (Comparing dollars across the ages is tricky, see why here.)

$15.78 makes this yummy new paperback edition of Zola’s ‘The Belly of Paris’ seem right on target with a list price of $16.00 (and an Amazon price of $10.88!)

What would I do if books cost $99? Probably be a lot less inclined to read them in the shower. Because, even though my inner (outer, really) pennypincher whinges about the high price of a new book (why, it’s even more than 2 large pizzas, breadsticks and a gallon of diet sprite!), books today really are cheap and plentiful. Especially if you take advantage of that beautiful & amazing public institution, the local library.

Bad Blogger

What can I say? I took one little holiday excursion to Kentucky and got all relaxed. When I came back, real life was waiting for me in some of its more irritating costumes. It’s been hard to get back here.

I meant to do a Short Story post on Monday; I actually did read a book of short stories over the weekend, Danit Brown’s Ask For a Convertible. I was reading it because Brown is going to be teaching at the IUWC this summer. I was just sort of going to browse it, and do my duty, and take it back to the library. But I ended up reading the whole thing. Mostly because it was funny right away. I like funny. I kept reading because the grandmother was crazy, because Osnat was whiny and liked to make out with Sanjay in the C corridor, because she had to get advice on how to tuck her jeans into her slouchy socks just so. (I remember this; I used to wear two pairs of socks just so I could have the maximum coordination with my two-color eyeshadow and humongous dangling earrings.) I did get tired of Osnat’s whining and indecisiveness by the time she was grown up and I was 3/4 of the way through the book, but by then I wasn’t allowed to quit (tyranny of personal reading rules.)

They’ve put up some performances from last year’s IUWC on the main page. I’m including here a clip of Ross Gay reading. I had maybe the teensiet little writer-crush on him. He’s all young and charming and doing his good-looking best to completely rehabilitate the modern poet’s loathsome image. Watch him read ‘Bringing the Shovel Down’ (at about 9:50) and tell me your heart’s not in your throat.

Follow that with a chaser of Donald Antrim, reading from his (unpublished) novel, and you will snort milk out your nose laughing. Even if you’re not drinking milk. I swear.

It’s Not About You + Trouble

Glimmer Train always has such good stuff.

Someone recently told me that they had decided not to take a writing class because of the inevitable presence of  folks who use the workshop to display their own critical smarty-pants, broadcast the tones of their mellifluous voices, and who aren’t willing to take seriously the work that’s in front of them. I admit that I have spent plenty of workshops fuming with impatience, head bent over my papers so no one can see my eyes rolling, but I evenutally realized, as Jeremiah Chamberlin says in this article, that Workshop Is Not About Me (or My Work). The point of a workshop is to become a better writer, and listening to a group of strangers tell you that they, personally, prefer a story with more post-apocalyptic biker fairies, isn’t how that happens.

When I’m working on one of those virtuous critiques of someone else’s story that seems to be all about helping them out, but instead is all about me making my own stories better, I’m always harping on trouble. Trouble is something I have trouble with, too. Most of us writer-types like peaceful lives — it’s why we stay locked up behind closed doors making things up on a keyboard when we could be out in the world lying, shooting, screwing, stealing, cooking meth and picking daisies. We tend to be fond of our characters, and, unconciously, at least, we want them to have peaceful lives too. But that’s why ‘happily ever after’ traditionally comes at the end of the story – now that everyone’s happy there’s nothing left to tell. Aaron Gwyn gives good advice for the hows and whys of getting some Trouble into your stories.