Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When There's a Hunger Games Barbie Doll...

The sales pitch is literally "Feel well-rested and prepared for The Hunger Games with this Katniss pillowcase."
Yes, because teenagers regularly participate in BATTLE ROYALES!!!
The other day I got an email forwarded from my mom. It was one of those Barnes & Noble membership emails, and this one was about—what else?—The Hunger Games and all the various things you could buy (instead of, like, books). My mom’s note at the top was “I enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy but mugs?!?” Preach it, Mom.

This is sort of how I’ve been feeling for a while. Every time I see Hunger Games nail polish, Hunger Games T-shirts, Hunger Games flip flops, I think “I enjoyed The Hunger Games but…”

Commercialization of books is always something that’s rubbed me a bit wrong. Maybe it’s snobby (yeah, it’s definitely snobby), but I don’t like the idea of taking a book and turning it into a catchy phrase to be slapped on a bumper sticker or printed on a T-shirt (limited edition!!!). It’s such a ridiculous dumbing down of a book, and when the idea is as complex and, frankly, grim as Hunger Games, it makes me feel downright uncomfortable.

It’s one thing when books like Harry Potter jump onto the solid-gold merchandize bandwagon, and, as a writer, I earnestly hope all Suzanne Collins is getting buckets of cash for all this stuff, which will allow her the freedom and comfort to write many, many more excellent novels.

But Hunger Games has always been anti-excess, anti-consumption. The wealthy trend followers of the Capital are held up as objects of ridicule at best, morally-repugnant airheads at worst. The main characters lead desperate lives of poverty, starvation, and daily humiliation. It’s impossible to separate the message of the book from the stacks of merchandise that now bear its name and slogans. Even the name itself—the Hunger Games—describes a bitter fight to the death among 24 children shown on television for the benefit of the wealthy elite. So wrap up in your cozy “LOVE HUNGER GAMES” sweatshirt!!!

I get it. Big-hit books are important for the publishing industry. Dumb merchandise helps pay for quiet, literary books to be published. Fans should be able to show their love. Hunger Games craziness has led to a huge jump in its book sales, which means more readers interested in YA, which means more demand, period. This is all great. I just wish, in the middle of all this merchandise nonsense, that there was even a small acknowledgment of the tricky territory of marketing a book that, instead of featuring flying wizards or sparkly vamps, portrays graphic murders of innocent kids and the brutal realities of war and revolution.

Maybe (commence sanctimonious climb onto pedestal) the Hunger Games mania even could be used for good. Collins wrote that she got the idea when flipping between images of reality TV and reports on the Iraq War. She also has said she wanted to write about the loss and horror of war, especially in regards to young people. And, seriously, kudos on that. So why not use the Hunger Games as an opportunity to help young refugees? Or local food banks?* Or as a way to spotlight the injustice going on in the world right now? (okay, jumping off pedestal now)

I’m totally going to see the Hunger Games movie, and I’m excited that a book I enjoyed is getting so much attention and affection. But (you knew there was a “but” coming…), every time another piece of sparkly, useless, over-the-top merchandise goes out into the world, I can’t help but think: Damn, the Capital won.

*Pleased to discover that, as of last week, the movie is teaming up with the World Food Programme and Feeding America to solicit donations and raise awareness about world hunger. You can learn more here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Oscar Goes To...

How was everyone's weekend?

First off, No-Knead Bread is a revelation. I kid you not when I say it looked, smelled, and tasted like the best bakery bread, and the husband and I devoured half of it in less than ten minutes before I looked up and realized it took me 24 hours to make, and maybe we should slow down a little. We're already on loaf number two (which was, if anything, an improvement). Exquisitely simple to make, thrillingly delicious to eat, please, please check out this recipe (pleeeeease!).

I also finished reading my "literary" book (of my "Two Books a Day" Project), The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Excellent, excellent, excellent. Clever, moving, brilliantly-paced and structured, amazing narrative voice--it was a pleasure from start to finish. Highly recommend.

We slouched on the couch for the Oscars last night, and I was pleased to see some favorites win, like The Artist (Uggie was on stage! Cue adorableness-induced mass hysteria!), Bret McKenzie and "Man or Muppet" (he always makes me think he's some cute, scruffy, funny guy I went to college with), and Madame Meryl winning after a near-thirty-year hiatus (I mean. C'mon.). The evening only could have been improved if Melissa McCarthy won for Bridesmaids or if someone in the Oscars audio booth had managed to get rid of that damn tinny feedback that happened all night.*

I scoured my archives for Oscar-winning writers to feature on today's Writing Spaces post and was disappointed to find the pickin's quite slim (not least because this means even if I become J.K. Rowling, I won't ever get to say my acceptance speech).

So, I cheated a little and went with one of my favorite Oscar winners: Alfred Hitchcock.

These are the times I wish I kept better notes on where I get these photos, because there's obviously a story behind this one. For starters: his writing space is a bar. A bar! I'm amazed no one else has thought of that. Second of all, this is obviously early in his career (note the hair...) but I have no idea what he's working on. Any photo sleuths with some ideas?

Hitchcock had an interesting relationship with the writers of his movies. Although he has no screenwriting credits, he was exacting in detail for the script, working with the writers on every page. Some screenwriters have gone so far as to say the true creative genius behind the script was Hitchcock himself, who was able to visualize the movie perfectly, from start to finish. Even when jumping off from original material (like Rebecca or Psycho), he managed to twist and improve the narrative, and his stories are a master class in suspense and pacing.

“I'm a writer and, therefore, automatically a suspicious character.”

*Stalkerish readers will remember that in my previous life, I worked as a news radio producer, and listening to that Oscar feedback--which I'm fairly certain is from digitizing the live audio feed--was like a thousand tiny knives in my ears all night long. I got sympathy sweat for the poor line producer who will have to take the blame.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wrap Up: No-Knead Bread Edition

Smells delish.
Looks sort of weird.
Happy Friday everyone! My project for this weekend is to finally, finally try the recipe for Mark Bittman's oh-so-famous No-Knead Bread. I've made bread before, and while it's been good, I still haven't discovered anything even close to the amazing artisanal bread they sell at the bakery down the road.

So far this recipe has lived up to its no-fuss, no-muss reputation: 3 cups flour, 1/4 tsp yeast, 1 1/4 tsp salt, 1 1/2 cup water, mix and forget for 18 hours. This afternoon, I'll shape it, let it rise again, stick it in my beautiful new Dutch oven, and hopefully enjoy crusty, warm joy.

The blog-o-sphere was busy this week! Let's get down to it

Bent Books' Anonymous Agent Intern Y talks about the importance of picking the right moment for your story's beginning

Author Elizabeth Fama talks about John Green's 150,000 autographs for The Fault in Our Stars, and lets her four children play the doodle game with one of John's signatures (and hilarity ensues)  

The Andre Norton Award short list is out! This award is for excellence in Sci-Fi and Fantasy for Young Adults

Coming off last week's post on what you should ask an agent offering representation, Mary Kole posts a list of questions an agent might ask a potential client. She also fleshes out the standard agent response of "We know it when we see it."

At Write it Sideways, Suzannah Windsor Freeman discusses writing the right story versus writing the story right (say that ten times fast...)

Author Mary Lindsey on Querytracker gives an in-depth look at her editorial process for her latest novel, Shattered Souls

Rachelle Gardner was all about optimism this week with two posts encouraging writers that "You can do this," and listing 6 reasons for writers to be positive on publishing

At Wordplay, K.M. Weiland talks about how to figure out if you've started your story too soon or too late

Melanie McCullough of The Indelibles argues in favor of darkness in YA and supports highlighting difficult or uncomfortable themes in teens' lives

Alan Rinzler invites four top agents to discuss why writers should still seek representation, even in an era of self-pub and change

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Super-Long, Super-Involved Guide to Writing about Archery

This post has been in the works for a while. What with Hunger Games <3 and fantasy's penchant for the sport, I've always wanted to put out a guide for how to write about archery (or really, the things you need to know to make it believable). It is very, very long. Get comfy!

A blurry picture of me from one of my many archery competitions
Back when I was in middle school, my dad insisted that something needed to be done about my intellectual interests and doughy physique. His solution: I needed to pick a sport, any sport. And so, I picked one of the nerdiest and least physically-exertive sports in the world: archery.

I ended up actually being quite good at it, which was a pleasant surprise. Like, "considering possibly skipping my high school graduation for the Olympic trials" good. Like, "invited to spend a summer, costs paid, at the Olympic training center" good.

And then I went to college, left behind my archery team, and hardly picked up a bow ever again (sad).

My years of shooting have left me with both a deep appreciation of the sport and a deep hatred for how archery is portrayed in virtually every movie and book. I get it! Archery is actually the most boring sport in the world, and you have to jazz it up or risk giving your audience the snoozies, but that’s still no excuse not to get some details right. If you’re considering putting archery into your story, here are a few a ridiculously large amount of tips and primers (FYI: links lead to photos, which will open up in a new window).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Writing Spaces: Presidential

I hope you all are having a patriotic Presidents' Day. We celebrated by stuff six college friends into our teeny tiny apartment for the weekend, and after an action-packed three days, I'm ready for another long weekend.

Today's writing space is one of the most famous in the country: the Oval Office. Completed in 1909 for President Taft, the Oval Office got a major renovation in 1934 under President Roosevelt and currently features decor chosen by First Lady Michelle Obama.

That huge desk was carved from pieces of the British ship HMS Resolute, which was rescued by American sailors and returned to Britain, where Queen Victoria had two desks made from the wood and sent one to President Rutherford B. Hayes.

No idea where they get the chair from, but it sure looks comfy, huh?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wrap Up: Cuppa Edition

Oooh tea... You make me soooo happy...
I am thrilled and delighted to say that I am back to full power after a disappointing week feeling exactly like the word "bleh." Now I feel like the word "woooo!!!" and it's very, very nice.

It's especially nice because this weekend we're playing host to seven of the husband's college friends (the sleeping arrangements should be...interesting), and the only time we actually get to see Chicago is when people come and make us be tourists (to wit: museum trips and a comedy show on the agenda), so I was not planning on spending the weekend in bed, slave to Nyquil (that stuff is dangerous, I swear).

But before I run off to clean our apartment/attempt to cook for eight 27-year-olds, here are the blog posts I found especially interesting this week:

Rachelle Gardner did a great three-part series on what publishing can learn from Kodak's bankruptcy. Part one asks, "Do you know what business you're in?" while part two covers knowing your customer and part three wonders if publishing is ready for change.

Via Mary Kole, the Big Sur conference going on March 2-4 is still open for registration. It'll be in Monteray, California and has a great roster of speakers (and ooh California in the winter. sigh.). She also put together a great list of ten questions to ask an agent when you're offered representation.

Nathan Bransford discusses Game of Thrones (which I've still yet to read/watch) and the development of character, specifically an author being able to kill off characters at whim. And, as a current writer for CNET, he also put together a selection of quotes and essays from writers who appear to be technophobes

Literary Rambles' Tip Tuesday this week talks about how Wikipedia can be used as a random idea generator

YA Confidential, which last week had an open call for questions for teen readers, posted the answers this week. It's great to see what teens think about trends, characters, and reading.

QueryTracker looks at how to query an unlikeable character and how to make an agent or editor care enough to want to read more

Via The Quivering Pen, the lovely, beautiful, funny Oscar-nominated animated short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Take a few minutes and watch--it so beautifully captures the magic and love of reading.

Via Galleycat, the Authors Guild posted an essay on their blog accusing Amazon of predatory pricing and ultimately hurting the publishing industry for their own gains. Regardless of what you feel on the matter, I felt this was a thoughtful, well-supported criticism of Amazon's practices.

On Finding Wonderland, Ashley Hope Perez, author of The Knife and the Butterfly, discusses what it means to be "edgy," why writers choose to write books that deal with tough topics and why readers are drawn to them.

And finally, from Rachelle Gardener: even Dickens had to deal with demanding editors...

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Closed for Continuing Cold

Phew. Sorry guys. I tried sooo hard to blog something today and put it off all day in the hopes that I would be energetic enough to put a post together. Instead, I am a hazy mess of Nyquil-hangover, cough drop wrappers, and crumpled up paper towels (because we are out of tissues and CVS is tooo faaar awaaaay....).

I am off to sleep away the misery.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Right now I want each and every one of my white blood cells to be my Valentine, so they can kick the butt of whatever has left me foggy, coughing, and sore-throat-ed.

This is my first Valentine's as a married lady, but thankfully our busy Tuesday schedules mean we'd already decided to celebrate tomorrow, giving me another day to look not quite so much like death warmed up.

In the meantime, thinking about happy days with my kiddo, and many more to come.

I hope you all have a very happy Valentine's Day with the ones you <3.

Photo by Trent Bailey.
This little caption is nowhere big enough to contain all the awesome things I have to say about him.
If you need a photographer, go hunt him down, please.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Writing Spaces: A Little Austen Love

Hi there, blog folk. I am feeling at about 60% percent today, after a fun and activity-filled weekend (I tried sushi for the first time! A gay bar no-pants party! Trip to Ikea!) seems to have left me fighting off a cold.

This is one of those colds that worms its way into your brain until you're left feeling fuzzy-headed with no memory of what you wanted to say, which is not the best thing for writing (all last night when I talked to my husband, I would be like "But didn't he mind...."). Also, apparently, writing blog posts...

Anywho, before I send the husband out to buy me a pharmacy, here is today's love-themed writing space: Jane Austen's delicate (and uncomfortable-looking) writing table.

I just hopped onto the Austen bandwagon a few weeks ago, when I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time (although I knew the story from watching Wishbone). It was a lot of fun although I did want to smack Mr. Darcy from time to time (also, Bingley can't make up his mind without his friend telling him? That's a dealbreaker, ladies).

"I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun." -Pride and Prejudice

Friday, February 10, 2012

Wrap Up: Ballet Shoes Edition

This is a picture of my foot.* I’m trying to relearn ballet after a 4-year hiatus, and so a lot of the time when I’m working at my standing desk, I’ll have my ballet slippers on and practice my turnout and balance. It's just another reason why I'm glad I write at home, alone, with no one to see me...

Aaaanyway, here are this week's posts:

Former wonderbar agent, now Jacob Wonderbar writer Nathan Bransford returned to blogging this week after a loooong hiatus. He had a couple great posts, including how to get back to writing after a looooong hiatus, a guest post by author Matthew Pearl on expanding the world of your story, and an interesting discussion on whether writers should review the work of other writers (this is something I've been thinking about, too. You can check out my thoughts in "On Reviews")

Author Elizabeth Fama talks about how the pressure for authors to use social media to reach out to their audience can make her feel like a "twitter hussy"

Agent Jenny Bent posted a back-and-forth she had with author Mike Wells about publishing taste vs reader taste and whether agents need to "fall in love" with a book to represent it

On YAHighway, the dreaded "Should I start over my WIP?" moment, and how it can be a good thing

Agent Rachelle Gardner discussed her role as a champion of worthwhile books--what that means and how it can be difficult. She also hosted a guest post by author Rosslyn Elliott on why your characters need flaws

BookEnds Lit Agency has updated their fabulous publishing dictionary with even more entries all writers should know

Agent Jessica at Dystel & Goderich talks cover design and shares some links to comparisons between UK and US covers

Over at YA Confidential, they're hosting an "Ask a Teen" forum, where you can leave a question for their teen bloggers about their reading tastes or habits. The teens will post their answers this Tuesday, so there's still some time to get your question in!

*No I am not balancing en pointe in my toe in slippers. That would be painful. This pose is staged, staaaaaged!!!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Valentine's Gifts for Writers

I am a big fan of Valentine’s Day. Growing up, it was usually marked by my mom getting me something luridly pink and girly, like a full manicure set or a pink T-shirt studded with rhinestone hearts. I’m not a super girly person, but I always loved these little presents for their over-the-top-ness and wore my Pepto Bismo atrocities with pride.

With that in mind, and because several folks told me they liked my holiday gift guide, I’m back here with 15 Valentine’s Day presents for the writer in your life.

$40 from JezebelCharms on etsy
This lovely brass cuff depicts a page from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights,
along with a quote by Catherine Earnshaw:
"Whatever our souls are made of his and mine are the same."

$10.99 list price from Snuggie on Amazon
 Laugh if you will, I still say nothing says "I love you" better than a Snuggie.
This pink number, perfect for Valentine's Day, will keep your little writer toasty and warm.
I have two: one that I keep on my bed, for reading (the other I may be wearing as I type...)

$10 from AproposRoasters on etsy
 Mmmm tea...
There is nothing lovelier than curling up with a cup of warm tea and a good book.
These beautiful little packets come in a variety of flavors
(and check out their etsy store for coffee and hot cocoa selections)

$5.50 from crabappledesign on etsy
 Old library cards get transformed into chic Valentine's Day messages,
with plenty of room to leave a message of your own for your book-lover.

$12.95 from Enjou Chocolat
 Chocalate + books = best idea ever

$16 from Palimpsestect on etsy
 I thought these were great!
"Unblockers" featuring words from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Whenever you need a little bit of inspiration, toss these wooden blocks and see what comes up

$8 from Urban Outfitters
 When I was in elementary school I loved the "secret letters" we'd write using lemon juice or wax.
These have a 21st century improvement, with a hidden UV light to reveal its message
Give one to your Valentine, keep one for yourself, and pass along some secret love notes

$11 from paperpastries on etsy
These were so pretty and simple, I just couldn't resist.
Old school but with a bright, graphic charm, why stick with boring yellow when you can have these?

$11.77 from BDWE on Alibris
 Of course, giving a book can be the ultimate romantic gesture
(don't believe me? check out this tumblr).
I'm partial to Pablo Neruda's poems of love, but with any book, I suggest going the vintage route.
Something so nice about holding a well-worn, much-loved book in your hands.

$240 from Anthropologie
 How lovely is this?
Sheets patterned with real love letters found in an antique store in Brooklyn.
Soft, pretty, and romantic

 Instead of buying something, consider writing letters to your Valentine
as part of the Month of Letters Project.
Calligrapher Margaret Shepherd is posting 14 calligraphy tutorials, leading up to Valentine's Day,
so pick up some new tricks and create something beautiful

$50 from JustaFewPrints
 I've posted this before but it's so great it bears repeating.
Love love love this print of books by Paul Octavious.
Perfect for libraries or offices.

Free from NPR
 Never has a Valentine so truly spoken to me...
NPR is offering a selection of radio-nerd Valentines on their website.
Just visit, download, and print to make all your public radio dreams come true!

$10 from Rifle Paper Co
 Of course, you can't beat a good ole fashioned card.
I'm partial to this design from Rifle Paper (check out their Anatomy of Love card, too)

$69 from Urban Outfitters
 Hello, lovely.
This bright red backpack from Herschel Supply Co. is perfect for hauling around favorite books and your trusty laptop, and the beautiful color makes it a charming and cheering Valentine's gift.

Happy Valentine's Day!