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I plan to be a diva someday . . .

Dec. 17th, 2009 06:04 am Okay, maybe I'm just paranoid

So I walk in the park every morning. I've been doing that ever since I quit my last job as a lawyer (Before that, I walked from the train station to my office, instead of taking the bus). Up until recently, I walked from 6:15 until around 7:00, but this year, I've been taking my daughter to the bus stop at 6:40, so I walk from 6:40 until about 7:15. This has caused some confusion because the people I used to see walking before 6:40 think I'm slacking off and have taken to remarking that they haven't seen me in the park lately. This is easily explained by saying that I'm walking a little later.

But for the past few months, I've been running into a woman whose in-laws go to my church. She walks three days a week, and I walk five. At first, we were just yelling hello as we passed, but in the past few weeks, she's started yelling things like, "Good for you!" "Go, Alexandra!" and "Boy, that was fast!" as if I'm a small child who needs constant encouragement (or like the episode of The Office when Holly thought Kevin was mentally disabled and kept praising him for stuff like driving a car). It's a little embarrassing, but I figured she just has poor social skills.

Then, yesterday, I figured it out: This woman is a dietician at the local hospital. Since she hadn't seen me out walking for the past, um, five years (or since seventh grade, if you count all the exercising I've done that wasn't in the park), and since I'm not a size four, she is assuming that I only recently committed to a fitness routine, and that I might, in fact, be having difficulty putting one foot in front of the other and, therefore, needed praise for doing so.

Which had the opposite effect of praise because it made me spend the whole day, thinking, "Oh, my God! Am I that fat?" (I'm a size eight, and I'm pretty sure this woman is also).

Which made me really sort of want a McFlurry.

Current Mood: depressed

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Dec. 10th, 2009 12:48 pm Kirkus is gone

I'm a sentimental sort, the type who dislikes change. So it is with mixed feelings that I contemplate the demise of Kirkus reviews. We had a love-hate relationship. 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. Same with Kirkus.

My first review was from Kirkus, and as regular readers of this page already know, it was bad. I remember getting the review the way I remember hearing about the Challenger explosion when I was in college, the way some of my elderly clients could always remember the jobsite they were working when Kennedy was shot. I was at Chuck-E-Cheese at a birthday party for one of my daughter's friends, when my agent called. "They seem to have misunderstood the book," he said, in his polite way. I culled the line, "teens may overlook its major flaws" (which is reviewer-ese for, "I hated this book, but teens might like it because I think they're stupid") and, years later, put it up on my website, as a red badge of courage. When I'd gotten to the point where I could see the humor in it.

Because teens, um, did overlook its major flaws. So did adults, educators and librarians. The book, Breathing Underwater, was a Top-10 BBYA, a PW Flying Start, and is read in hundreds, maybe thousands of schools. I have shared that story with numerous writers who got bad reviews from Kirkus or anyone else. No one review can kill you. But it did kill my illusions that any of this would be easy.

They didn't like my second book any better. It did okay too. Still in print after almost eight years.

Just when I thought I had them figured out, they threw me for a loop and starred my third book. My first star from a major journal. They didn't mind my next three either, and very well may have written the review which led to Beastly becoming a movie. Really. A producer read their review, requested a copy of the book. This led my agent to send the book to other film producers, two of whom (including the first one) offered on the rights.

So I stopped hating Kirkus . . . until I saw their review of A Kiss in Time.

It is the anonymity of Kirkus that bothers me. Those who know me from e-groups will recall that I despise anonymity of any kind. It is too easy to be cruel, to be unreasonable, if one doesn't have to own it. If one is going to be brutal (and I'm not saying one shouldn't), one should be willing to admit being brutal. With Kirkus, I always wondered if the bad reviews were written by someone I knew.

I found out, quite by accident, the identity of the librarian who loathed A Kiss in Time so much. Her profile on Goodreads (where I found her, since made private) revealed that she was a part-timer, and a librarian friend who is very active in this woman's home state had never heard of her.

It was like seeing the wizard behind the curtain.

A friend says that publications review anonymously because they want the review to represent the opinion of the entire publication, not just the individual reviewer. But, in a way, that's unfair because unless the whole staff read the book (which I'm guessing would only happen in the case of stars or potential stars) a review really is just one person's opinion. Anonymity only serves the purpose of making a potentially uninformed opinion as valid as a better-informed one. Josephine Schmoe's opinion really isn't as valid (at least to me) as Teri Lesesne's or Michael Cart's because these people really know YA literature, and Josephine? Well, we don't know what she knows. I know there are plenty of great librarians who review for Kirkus, but there was no way of finding out whether you drew one.

In any case, Kirkus is dead, and I am sad, not because they loved me (They didn't) but because it is one less place for new authors to be reviewed. Kliatt is gone, and now Kirkus. For all their flaws, Kirkus did review a lot of books, and in a competitive market, even a bad review is better than silence. I have said before that I'm glad to have gotten published when I first did. This is just one more difficulty for new writers to face.

So rest in peace, Kirkus. I didn't hate you . . . well, not all the time!

Current Mood: contemplative

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Dec. 2nd, 2009 06:04 am Facebook Beastly page

Hey, if you're on Facebook, and you like Beastly, the book, become a fan of Beastly, the movie. This is CBS's fanpage for the movie. They're trying to get 3,000 fans and say they will be unveiling some new stuff when they do.

By the way, the Facebook fan page someone just started for me is not my page (like, I don't have any control over it), but it's nice that someone started one.

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Dec. 1st, 2009 11:37 am To fans of Beastly, the book, re: The movie

I've been reading a lot of message boards, Twitters, etc. (I am not on Twitter, so don't look for me; My husband is, and he has Beastly as a search, so I get to see every single tweet that even uses the word, Beastly in another context) , and I've seen a lot of people who are worried that CBS is going to "ruin" the book in their movie version.

My message to my fans: Thank you SO much for loving my book enough to worry about it. That is super-flattering, and I'm very grateful that you love the book as much as I do.

However: Don't worry.

Honestly, I've read the script because, basically, I'm not good with surprises (like, I really try to find out what my Christmas gifts are ahead of time if at all possible), and the folks at CBS were kind enough to let me read it. I've heard horror stories about books that were ripped to shreds as movies. For example, most people may not know this, but Lois Duncan's book, I Know What You Did Last Summer was suspense, not horror. I got to see Ms. Duncan talk about this at a conference, and this was a big surprise to her. She brought her grandchildren to the movie. Oops.

And don't even get me started on Wicked, the musical. I mean, I love Stephen Schwartz and all, and Wicked is a good show, but if you've read the book (or The Wixard of Oz), you know it doesn't end well for Elphaba. To quote one blog I read, "The @%#*& witch dies!" So that was a bit of a shocker. I mean, I understand why the writers did that. You couldn't really have a fun, popular musical where the main character you've grown to love dies violently by melting in the end, unless it was sort of a Sweeney Todd-type musical (and, much as I love Sweeney Todd, it has never been a moneymaker like Wicked). So they changed it. I celebrate Wicked, the musical for what it was, but it wasn't profound like Wicked, the book.

Sorry to ramble. I'm just giving examples of what I would consider killing a book for a movie (or theatrical) version.

Early in the casting process, CBS offered the role of Kyle to a well-known actor who stated that he thought Kyle/Adrian should have a closer relationship with his father. This would have been, in my mind, a BIG change. It would definitely have bothered me because what attracted me to the Beast's story was that he seemed so abandoned and alone. That's what the book was about -- loneliness, abandonment, desperation. I related to the Beast because of my own strong feelings of loneliness as a teenager (and that is why he reads all the books I loved as a teen, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Picture of Dorian Grey), and while I like this actor a lot, I wouldn't have been happy if his casting had meant they'd change that part of the book.

But that actor isn't involved in the movie (To any teen girls reading this: Have you SEEN Alex Pettyfer?), and the writer put the script back.

Judging from the script, there haven't been huge changes to the book. Really, only one small plot change (having to do with how Kyle talks Lindy's dad into letting her stay, and Kyle's motivations), but it all flows nicely. I can honestly say that, had my editor suggested this change to the book, I would have considered making it. Any other changes are along the lines of cutting a 300+ page book down to a 120-ish page script. Again, since my book isn't terribly long, this didn't result in huge changes to the plot.

The characters are the same people. They changed Magda's name, probably because the actress who is playing her is not Hispanic, but she's still the same wise mentor. And yes, I know Vanessa Hudgens doesn't look the way I described Lindy in the book, but she is the same person too. I was in New York two weeks ago, and I got to see about a 10-minute clip of the movie, the party scene where Kyle (as in the book) fights with Sloane, talks to Lindy, and snubs Kendra, then the scene back at his apartment with Kendra. Vanessa Hudgens comes off very smart, and sweet and self-deprecating as Lindy in the scene, and she was definitely in sharp contrast to Sloane, Trey, Kyle, and the other snotty kids at the school. This was the most important thing to me, that Lindy would be a normal, middle class, smart girl, and she nailed it. I really enjoyed her in Bandslam, and I look forward to seeing her in the whole movie.

And Mary-Kate Olsen -- OMG! I've recently had the opportunity to watch a million Full House reruns with my kids (Other than Candace Cameron's hairstyle, it never gets old), and if you think about it, you can tell that Mary-Kate and her sister are extremely talented girls. But New York Minute wasn't exactly the vehicle to show that off. In Beastly, though, Mary-Kate gets a role into which she can really sink her teeth. Honestly, she is Kendra, and I don't say that lightly because Kendra is my favorite character in the book, and the one to whom I most relate. I don't care how thin she is; She's perfect (and her costumes are awesome). She's SCARY! She will be a highlight of the movie.

Anyway, if you're a fan in the book, you can rest easy in the knowledge that the movie version is pretty true to it. Not one major plot point is different. Not one major character has been deleted. The ending is identical, and Alex Pettyfer is going to be great as Kyle.

And -- yesss! -- I sent in my new book yesterday. It will be out in a year, and the title (drum roll, please) is . . . Cloaked.

Current Mood: excited

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Nov. 20th, 2009 09:58 pm Teaser trailer

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Nov. 17th, 2009 11:33 am Beastly trailer on ET!

Barring any unforeseen breaking news in the entertainment world, the theatrical trailer for Beastly will be on Entertainment Tonight, tonight.

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Oct. 28th, 2009 12:19 pm Opinions, please.

Titles under consideration for my new novel.  The publisher wants something COMMERCIAL.  The book is about Johnny, who works in a shoe repair shop and dreams of becoming the next Jimmy Choo.  Victoriana, a princess who is a cross between Paris Hilton and Princess Caroline, asks him to complete a quest for her:  A witch has changed her brother into a frog and set him loose in the Florida Keys.  As Johnny looks for the frog (traveling by way of a magical cloak), he comes across numerous other enchanted creatures, including a family of swans, a helpful fox, and a rat.  He also defeats two giants, finds true love, and other surprises. 

I've suggested numerous titles to my editor, and her assistant has kindly been keeping a running list. 

The Princess and the Shoemaker

The Princess and the Shoe Repair Guy

Frogged

Frogged Out

Well-Heeled

Down at the Heel

Well-Heeled but Frogged Out

Leap of Faith

If Not for the Frog

Magic Afoot

Spellbound

Cloaked

Metamorphosis

Metamorphose

Morphed

Morph

Transfigured

Transformed

Transformation

Croak and Dagger

Transfigured (a tale of Croak and Dagger) or something else with this subtitle

Outfoxed

Brilliant suggestions will also be accepted, or just vote for your favorite.  Please!
 

Current Mood: hopeful

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Oct. 1st, 2009 09:07 am Pretty Beastly

CBS Films has released a new, more detailed, photo of Alex Pettyfer's makeup for Beastly.  It appears on JustJared.com.  


Vanessa Hudgens: Alex Pettyfer’s Beast Was Crazy!
The movie comes out in July, 2010 (not February, as some of the Jared commentors are inaccurately stating). 

We got to see the makeup when we visited the set in July.  It was designed by Tony Gardner, who did John Travolta's hilarious look in Hairspray.   While on set, we got to meet Jaime Kelman, who did Alex's makeup every day.  He's worked on a lot of projects involving prosthetics, including Norbit and Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  He's working on the upcoming Cirque du Freak.   I thought it was kind of cool that he actually had a photo of a Beauty and the Beast Halloween costume (based on the Jean Cocteau film version) on his iPod.

Although this makeup isn't what I described in the book, I think it's great that it allows Alex to have some facial expressions while still being disturbing-looking.  It also allowed him freedom of motion and looked very natural, even in person.

Interestingly, just yesterday, I was watching the movie, Penelope, which focuses on Christina Ricci's character having a pig nose.  My reaction to the makeup there was that she didn't look that bad; There are lots of homelier people in the world (or, as one of my husband's personal injury defense lawyer friends famously said after seeing The Phantom of the Opera, "I think he should just get over it.").  But the point of that movie was sort of that the ugliness was in the eyes of the beholder, that her parents made a bigger deal of her looks than they should have, not allowing themselves to embrace their daughter because of this one small flaw.  Thus, in the movie, when Penelope "got over it," she was transformed.   

In the case of Kyle, I think a deformity on this level would be enough to send him (and his father) into hiding, because he was so vain in the first place.  Yes, there are people in the world who look worse (Indonesian Tree Man comes to mind) but they're not self-centered New York prep school students.   Kyle wasn't raised to be able to take the flak that comes with being a nonconformist.  He was raised to conform.  The book was as much about him being able to embrace his inner self as it was about him being an actual beast.  So, on that level, this really works.  Anyway, I'm looking forward to the movie (obviously).

I recommend Penelope, by the way -- and not just because James McAvoy is adorable (Can't see him without mentally envisioning him as a satyr in Narnia).  I think it's interesting that virtually every other Beauty and the Beast story focuses on females accepting less-than-attractive males.  The only versions I can think of where it is the opposite is the story of Sir Gawain and the Old Woman from Arthurian legend (but that is meant to show how saintly Gawain is) and a short bit in the novel, The Book of Lost Things (but in that story, the man does not accept, and the beast-woman eats him).  Ever look at husband-wife pairs on situation comedies?  It's always guys who look like Jim Belushi with women who look like Courtney Thorne-Smith.  So Penelope was refreshing.

Current Mood: pleased

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Sep. 28th, 2009 05:53 am So You Want to Be an Unlikable Narrator

The YALSA-BK list has been discussing books with unlikable narrators (in conjunction with Patrick Jones's book, Cheated), leading me to some offlist discussions of the same subject.  Since several of my books (Breathing Underwater, Breaking Point, Beastly, and Fade to Black) qualify in this category, I've thought about this a lot.  I think there are several elements which make an unlikable narrator palatable to a reader or audience nonetheless.

Interesting. 

I remember reading once (in Writer's Digest, which was helpful to me for about a year, similar to Modern Bride, but I dropped my subscription after I got published) that a viewpoint character has to be likable.  I don't think this is true.  I think that a viewpoint character needs to be interesting, as in charismatic, different from the reader, someone the reader would like to watch.  An example of this is Archie Costello who, at least to me, was the viewpoint character of interest in Robert Cormier's brilliant The Chocolate War.*  Perhaps Jerry was supposed to have been the character readers related to in the book, but frankly, the book wouldn't have worked for me with just Jerry as the viewpoint.  He was too sad to stick with for 200 pages.  No, it was Archie's narcissistic exuberance ("I am Archie.  My wish becomes commend.") that fascinated me enough to keep me reading.  While I think Cormier tried to give Archie a backstory to make him a little sympathetic (He was a boy with bad grades and no future -- in the words of Albert Brooke's character in Broadcast News, someone who'll never make more than $19,000.00 a year, and he had little joy in . . . well, really anything but these assignments), I don't think the average teenager was going to get that, any more than they get it with the bullies they meet in real life.

Similarly, and on a larger scale, is Anthony Burgess's character of Alex in A Clockwork Orange.  Here is a character with no redeeming qualities.  Someone on the YALSA-BK list spoke of Holden Caulfield as having no redeeming qualities.  Compared to Alex, Holden is a paragon of virtue.  Alex has No.  Redeeming.  Qualities.  He beats up old ladies.  But, again, there is a sort of traffic accident fascination to the book that keeps the reader turning pages.  A friend suggests that Alex's reprogramming, which is the crux of the book, is the reason it works, but the reader has to get there first.  I first read Clockwork (though I'd seen the movie, which works mostly due to the incredible charisma of Malcolm McDowell) when I was writing Breathing Underwater, and I was amazed that I wanted to keep going, but I did.

A Tale of Woe.

My personal obsession as a teen was Steven Sondheim's musical, Sweeney Todd, which I discovered when it first came out in my middle school years, and which was the first time I'd ever seen a traditional "bad guy" (and if you missed the recent Johnny Depp movie version, Todd is as bad as they come; Based on a longtime London legend, he is a barber who slits the throats of unsuspecting -- and completely innocent -- customers and disposes of the bodies by having his neighbor, Mrs. Lovett, bake them into pies) portrayed as sympathetic.  I believe that Sweeney Todd made me the writer I am today.

Why does it work?  In part because Sondheim's version (based upon a non-musical version by Christopher Bond) gave Todd a reason for his evil deeds: He's been driven mad by the fact that he was falsely imprisoned by an evil judge, who then raped his wife and stole his child.  Sondheim doesn't merely give us the backstory at the beginning and expect us to remember it either.  This might work for a villain committing less-evil deeds (Kyle in my book, Beastly, comes to mind -- sure, he's a jerk, but he doesn't kill anyone, so hearing about his neglectful father and abandoning mother once or twice, combined with the charisma mentioned above is probably sufficient), but since Todd is really bad, we the audience are reminded repeatedly of his heartbreak, particularly in a song called "Johanna," in which the protagonist slits the throats of various nameless customers while singing hauntingly of the daughter he lost ("And you'll be beautiful and pale, and look too much like her/If only angels could prevail, we'd be the way we were/Johanna!").

Of course, Sweeney Todd isn't the only story which presents us with a villain with a history of personal tragedy.  Who who read Bronte's Wuthering Heights in high school didn't feel a pang in the scene where Heathcliff overhears his beloved Cathy tell Nellie, "It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now"?   And who really sympathizes with the even-more-villainous Hindley Earnshaw who lives to subjugate Heathcliff?  While Heathcliff isn't technically the viewpoint character in Heights, the oddly traveling narration of the book does make him the constant, the main character.  Who else, really, is there to sympathize with there?  The narrator, Lockwood?  Or the impetuous and crazy Cathy?  Only toward the end of the book when Heathcliff is at his most insane and Cathy's daughter, Catherine Linton-Heathcliff, has grown to young womanhood do we finally have a truly good character on which to hang our hats.  But mostly, it's Heathcliff, and we stick with him because he's alternately so sad and so fascinating.

In young-adult novels, the tale of woe is often in the narrator's current situation, as a result of a previous bad act.  In Walter Dean Myers's book, Monster, for example, the protagonist, Steve, begins by describing his current situation:

"The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help. That way even if you sniffle a little they won't hear you. "

Aw.  Similarly, in Amy Efaw's new book, After, the main character is incarcerated for most of the book.

Fire and Flowers.

Another reason some books work is because of an element of distraction -- the fire and flowers the writer uses to catch the reader's or audience's eye so they don't notice the magician's hands moving.

In A Clockwork Orange Burgess uses an incredible bit of distraction in that the story is written in an elaborate slang the reader doesn't understand.  While later editions of the book included a glossary, earlier readers were left to decipher it (and the glossary was a different type of distraction).  In this way, the left brain was occupied most of the time so the right brain wouldn't notice just how disgusting Alex was.  By the time the reader had "learned" the language, Alex was already being reprogrammed.

In Sweeney Todd, the distraction was the music, which was gruesome but also some of the most beautiful ever written for the Broadway stage, a HUGE orchestra with soaring violins and some of the biggest voices ever.  This music, juxtaposed against the horrific acts being committed onstage, kept us going.  In my opinion, this is also what made the movie version of the play work less well.  The actors (particularly Helena Bonham Carter, whom I love in other roles, particularly the horrid Bellatrix in the HP films, but I wanted to strangle her here -- Just about everyone sings as well as her) really weren't up to the singing tasks set out for them, and Johnny Depp, one of the most charismatic actors of our time, purposely played Todd with zero charisma.  The main distractions we got in the movie version were Sasha Barron-Cohen, hilarious as Pirelli, and the always-delicious Alan Rickman, perfectly cast as Judge Turpin.  But we're not supposed to love Judge Turpin.  Not even compared to Todd.

Similarly, in some movies, plays, and television shows, it's a tour de force acting performance that keeps us loving a less-than-sympathetic protagonist.  A friend mentions Dr. House, and I believe that Hugh Laurie's performance is what keeps us interested in a drug-addicted doctor we wouldn't let in our living rooms.  The fact that the character saves lives probably helps too.  But the character who stands out for me in this category is Steve Carrell's character of Michael in The Office.  I worked for a guy like Michael in one of my first legal jobs (Trying not to be too specific here, lest he sue me).  My crazy boss would do stuff like "forgetting" he'd said we could have health insurance, then try to be our "pal" by taking the staff to Discovery Zone, a pizza place with video games where you take your kids.  Um, how can I play Skee-Ball when I hate you?  He even sort of looked and sounded like Steve Carrell (and had a partner who resembled the needy boss in The Devil Wears Prada, twice asking me to stay at her house overnight to complete non-legal tasks like making hors d'oerves for a party).  So I wasn't set up to like Michael.  And yet, I love the show, despite the fact that I haven't really jumped on the Jim and Pam bandwagon like most people (When I see Jim pick on Dwight, I laugh, but I cringe too -- I really think Jim's kind of a bully, and I know I wouldn't like him in real life).  Periodically, the writers do feed us some tale-of-woe stuff which make us feel sorry for Michael (His ill-fated romance with Holly, for example, and his various abuses at the hands of Jan), but this is late-in-the-game, so mostly it's Carrell's performance that vindicates Michael.  He is a hugely likable actor who plays his annoying character similarly to his portrayal of bumbling good guy Max Smart.  It all comes back to interesting.

Of course, novelists don't have actors to fall back on (and most screenwriters don't have actors of the caliber of Steve Carrell or Hugh Laurie), so we have to write that charisma in.

Lying. 

Sometimes, of course, the writer doesn't tell us the whole story from the beginning.  This is the case in Chris Lynch's book, Inexcusable, where the protagonist doesn't believe he's committed a rape, so he tells us he didn't.  Similarly, the protagonist in After, doesn't believe she's attempted to murder her baby, which keeps us reading for a little bit before we find out the awful truth.

My Own Books. 

Have I done this in my own books?  Yes, with varying degrees of success.  I first started studying the subject with Breathing Underwater, and I strived to make Nick the sort of character you really wished was your best friend.  Nick is a cool guy, smarter than most cool guys, with a certain sense of humor.  He's also a liar, so the reader doesn't really know if he did what Caitlin said he did (though I think they should -- but I know from Rhianna that teens are all too likely to think battered women are either lying about what happened or "asked for it").  The reader wants to believe Nick because they like him.  Finally, Nick does have a tale of woe, a physically and emotionally abusive father.  I worked this, particularly by showing his envy for his friend, Tom's "perfect" family, and his relationship with Caitlin, who is the only person he ever told about his horrible home life.

So I think that worked. 

My second book, Breaking Point, also featured a character who commits a heinous act, an attempted school bombing.  I'll admit I didn't work as hard to make Paul charismatic as I did with Nick.  I didn't think I had to.  Paul has a good excuse for his egregious conduct -- he is horrifically bullied and watches others be bullied even more unmercifully.  Of course, part of the reason for this is because Paul's not charismatic.  It wouldn't work if he was cool.  The story does move along in interesting fashion, but a lot of people don't like the protagonist.  I liked Paul and felt sorry for him, and readers who, like me, were or are picked on as teens seem to like the book.  Other readers -- not so much.   The thing to do, probably, would have been to make the charismatic and villainous Charlie Good a viewpoint character, as Cormier did with Archie.  But hindsight is 20-20.

In Fade to Black, the unlikable viewpoint character is the loser-ish Clinton Cole.  Clinton has many redeeming qualities, his love for his sister (which is what motivates his bad act in the story) and mother, his somewhat pathetic love for his alcoholic and abandoning father, and his real cluelessness about the evil of his deeds.  He's not particularly charismatic since he's dumb as a rock, but I liked him, and Fade has three viewpoint characters, two of them likable and one of them (Alex Crusan) charismatic.

And then, there's Beastly.  Compared to the acts committed by most of the other characters mentioned here, Kyle's act of bullying Kendra (who isn't such a weakling anyway) isn't all that bad.  Still, Kyle is a jerk.  Kyle, nonetheless, is entertaining and fun, the type of guy you wish despite yourself you were friends with.  I did provide him with a tale of woe, the same one from the fairy tale, which is what attracted me to the story of Beauty and the Beast in the first place.  Kyle is very lonely, even before he is turned into a beast.  He has no real friends, and his parents are worthless.  In fact, all my main characters are lonely.  It's a theme of my books.  Often, loneliness is what motivates their actions.  So that loneliness becomes Kyle's excuse.

In writing an unsympathetic protagonist, I think the very most important thing is that the AUTHOR has to like him.  This is usually accomplished by making the character charismatic.  However, the author shouldn't be so blinded by Pygmalion-like love of his creation that he doesn't give the audience ample reason to like the character too.  Through careful crafting and artful use of the various factors which make such characters sympathetic, your odious protagonist can be even more wonderful than a bland "good guy."






*
I know, I know, I'm going to hear from people who HATE The Chocolate War.  All the characters were odious, and they loathed the book.  I respect your opinion but . . . nonetheless, it's done pretty well, well enough that I think I can say it basically worked.  It worked for me.  YMMV.

Current Mood: contemplative

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Sep. 25th, 2009 02:33 pm In the category of Boy, it's tough to be a new writer!

A few months ago, I blurbed a first novel for local Miami writer, [info]daniellejoseph.  It was a funny and insightful first novel about a shy girl who finds her voice on the radio.  It was also blurbed by Ellen Hopkins.  The book came out in May of 2009 from a division of Simon and Schuster.  It was reviewed -- looks like nowhere.  However, it has been optioned for a Disney Channel movie, which would seem to indicate  that someone (or a lot of someones) besides me liked it enough to pay money for the option.

Shrinking Violet

Today, I learned from Danielle's Facebook that Shrinking Violet is going on backorder, and more copies won't be printed unless there are more orders, like now.

This is FOUR MONTHS after the original pub date.

For some perspective here, Breathing Underwater, which, if I do say so myself, has been reasonably popular, didn't start to have any significant sales until it made the BBYA Top 10* the January following its spring pub date -- or NINE months after its original publication.  Apparently, the state of publishing is such that books are not even allowed to find an audience through word-of-mouth before they are pulled off the shelves.

I can't do anything about the state of publishing, but I do recommend the book, so if you're looking for a great gift for a middle school girl, buy it (Only $11.00 -- less on certain online sites).  If you've already read the book, you can enter a contest to win a $25 bookstore or iTunes gift certificate by reviewing and promoting the book.  Details on Danielle's blog or Facebook above.  I'm not actually trying to win the gift certificate.  I'm just really, really glad to have had my first book come out in 2001!

*Shrinking Violet, with its eye-catching cover and interesting premise, would make a great Quick Pick, but I see that it must have gotten lost in the glut of spring books because it isn't even nominated.

Current Mood: contemplative

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Sep. 3rd, 2009 01:40 pm After by Amy Efaw

After by Amy Efaw: Book Cover

What would make a mother leave her baby in a dumpster to die?

We've all heard and read about these babies.  This phenomenon is so common that all fifty states have adopted "Safe Haven" laws, under which babies can be abandoned anonymously shortly after birth.  This is the subject of Amy Efaw's compelling new book, After. 

Devon Sky Davenport is the perfect student, star of her soccer team, and very responsible.  But one morning, a baby is found in a dumpster in her apartment complex.  Shortly later, it is determined that she is the one who put it there.  After follows Devon's journey through the court system and juvenile hall and explores the issue of what would make a girl like Devon do something like this.

I will confess that I know the author of this book slightly.  Amy Efaw wrote me a letter shortly before the publication of Breathing Underwater, saying that she had read the book because her editor recommended it because she was writing a book with an unpalatable main character.  This led to conversation about what the book was about, and when she told me the subject, my first thought (and second, and third) was, "Ew."  Since I've written edgy YA, people are always suggesting to me that I write about unpalatable subjects such as teens who beat homeless people to death or teens who murder their neighbors' cats, and the answer I always give them is that, no, I don't want to do that because I don't find such people sympathetic.  And that's exactly how I would have felt if someone had asked me to write about a character like Devon.  Interesting, but, um, no.

Which makes Ms. Efaw's accomplishment with the book all the more worthy.  I felt first interested in Devon's story (but INTERESTED isn't the same as sympathetic;  I also found Alex, the main character in Burgess's A Clockwork Orange interesting), and eventually, I really did see how she could do what she did, and I wanted it to end well for her.  The author also created a cast of very well-rounded character and kept the pace going well.  I think teens will be interested in Devon's progress through the legal system.  The book takes us to court as Devon's lawyer fights to keep the case in juvenile court.  Amy Efaw's husband is a lawyer, and it is clear to me that she did her homework because the legal issues were well-researched and realistic, which is more than I can say for most YA (or even adult) novels that deal with the law.

On a personal note, this book made me feel good about the future of YA realistic fiction.  Although I am currently working on a fantasy novel, I started my career in realistic fiction, still intend to write realistic fiction again, and love the impact that realistic fiction has on the lives of teen readers.  But, in recent years, it has been a bit frustrating to be a realistic fiction writer.  Simply put, readers who prefer this type of fiction are not generally the same readers who will rush out and plunk down $17.00 for a hardcover book.  So, increasingly, publishers have been buying, and bookstores have been stocking, the type of fiction that appeals to more affluent teens or the type of teens for whom a book rates as a good accessory.  With a few noteable exceptions (Wintergirls), realistic novels are not going to sell out a 100,000 copy first printing in bookstores, and there is less and less interest in these "school and library" titles.   Which I think is sad because the world needs these books.

And yet, I plucked After off a multi-copy floor display at a chain bookstore.  Why?  Well, it's not a vampire novel, and the author doesn't have a reality TV series, so I can only assume that someone out there still had faith in a well-written book with a compelling premise. 

Heartwarming, really.  Check it out.

Current Mood: impressed

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Jul. 25th, 2009 07:41 am Five Things I Learned About Montreal

Forgot to post a Friday 5, so this is a Saturday 5.

1.  All the street musicians in Old Montreal seem to be required to play La Vie en Rose at least two songs out of every three.  Even my husband noticed this.  We saw a guy with a saxophone who played it so often I wondered if he had a tape player stuffed in that thing.  Acceptable alternating songs include Summertime and Theme from A Summer Place, but probably only in summer.

2.  They have these really cool bike rack things where you can rent a bike for a brief length of time, then return it at another location.  It's called Bixi, combination bike + taxi.

3.  They think maple syrup is appropriate on everything, including mushroom crepes.

4.  A LOT of movies are filmed here.  The soundstage we visited had photos from dozens of them, including The 300, The Day After Tomorrow, Spiderwick, and The Aviator.  Rumor had it that Dustin Hoffman and Paul Giamatti were staying at our hotel.

5.  Cobblestone streets have to be re-cobbled.  They have the street in front of our hotel blocked off for that.  Also, cobblestone recobblers seem like a happy bunch.

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Jul. 24th, 2009 07:02 am Update on BBYA and other stuff

We're still in Canada.  We visited the set a bit more yesterday, and got to meet Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer.  Vanessa is even cuter in person than in her movies, and TINY, which is nice because my daughter, Meredith, is one of the smallest in her class, so I like her to see that small can be beautiful.  They were both very friendly, and Alex chatted with my husband about junior tennis, as his brother is apparently a future Wimbledon champ who has played in Miami and Boca Raton.  A bit unusual to have a normal conversation with someone in beast makeup, but you get used to it, so I can see how Lindy would too:)

But, speaking of makeup, the coolest thing was getting to talk to Jaime Kelman, who does the Beast makeup.  It takes three hours to put on, and they were touching up a bit before filming.  He had read my book, including my Author's Note at the end, where I mentioned the Jean Cocteau version of the tale as my vision of the Beast's appearance (Hmm, I wonder if the JC version is more well-known here in Montreal than in the U.S., since it's in French) and pulled out a cool photo of a Jean Cocteau Beast mask he saw at a party.   Kelman has worked on a bunch of cool movies, including last year's Crystal Skull and an Eddie Murphy movie, Norbit (which I haven't seen, but I know the drill with Eddie Murphy's prosthetic makeup in his other movies, and I bet that was cool).  In fact, I almost missed meeting Vanessa Hudgens because I was so into the makeup conversation. 

The producer told us that they get about 2-3 minutes of film per day.  This shocked my family, but when you think about it, it's not that much different than writing a novel.  I, personally, write in fits and starts, 20 pages one day, a paragraph the next.  But I know quite a few people who write a small prescribed amount (2 page, 3 pages, 5 pages) every day, and that's it.   So I guess it's similar.

But now, what I'm sure everyone is really interested in, and I missed it when it first came up because we really don't get a very consistent Internet connection at our place in the mountains.  There has been a new post on the YALSA blog about the BBYA list.*  Apparently, no one is really in favor of eliminating BBYA (Sigh of relief on behalf of all new and midlist YA authors everywhere) but it needs work because the reading load is too much for the committee members.  I agree, actually.  Not only is it too much to expect the committee members to read 500 books a year, but really, every author who is nominated should really have the right to expect his/her book to be read by every committee member, since it is obviously easier for a book to secure the required 9 votes if it has been read by 15 committee members than if it has been read by only 9.  And this has been an issue in recent years, with so many good books being published.  So something's gotta give.

I'm just glad I don't have to be the one to figure it out, but I'm glad that others agree that it is important!

*Oh, that is so cool.  When I posted up that link, it came up as French Facebook because I'm in Montreal, and asked me for the "proprietes du lien" (There were some accent marks over the two e's in "proprietes," but I have no idea how to duplicate them.  Sorry).  Being here really reminds me of how I struggled in French in college, and how I really preferred to sing in German and Italian because it is just SO MUCH WORK to pronounce French, at least for me.  But it is very pretty.

Current Mood: chipper

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Jul. 23rd, 2009 07:38 am In C-A-N-A-D-A

Sorry, crossing the border always reminds me of that Raffi song my daughters listened to as kids.  Loved Raffi.

In any case, we are in Canada, in Montreal.  All the signs are in French, which gives me the opportunity to use my one year of college Opera French (Basically, I can't understand much, but I can impress my kids by pronouncing it correctly), and, lord-oh-lord, there's a cupcake shop right across from our hotel!  I had a chocolate mint, as did Katie, while my mom had a vanilla one with icing made into flower petals.

We're here, of course, for the filming of Beastly.  I've already been to the set briefly, got to meet the producer, Susan Cartsonis, sampled movie set catering, and saw the Beast's very cool makeup up close and in person.  Don't know if my teen was expecting to see Alex Pettyfer as incredible hottie (There were some British girls at her Girl Scout sleepaway camp last week, and they were all rhapsodizing about him, having seen his new British movie, Tormented), but that Alex Pettyfer is gone.  Anyway, we saw him filming a bit of a scene with Lisa Gay Hamilton, who plays Magda (now named Zola) and Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Will.

We also got to see the set.  The scene we saw was being filmed on a soundstage, but they also used an old house in Montreal for a lot of the interiors, and we got to explore that a bit with Susan's assistant, Eva.  I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post photos (I know they don't want any posted of Alex in his makeup), so I won't right now, but the house is old and historic, not as tall as the 4-story-plus-basement brownstone I described in the book, but the interiors look very much as I'd imagined, with beautiful chandeliers and moldings, etc.  A castle.

Today, we go back for more filming and hopefully, to actually meet the cast.  Keep you posted.

Current Mood: excited

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Jul. 9th, 2009 05:18 am The possible demise of BBYA

I just found out from [info]thunderchikin's Facebook page that ALA is considering eliminating the Best Books for Young Adult list in favor of, if I'm reading it correctly, some sort of reader-selected popularity contest where the top-5 vote-getting novels in each genre would make the list.   The idea is to get the word out more quickly to members and give individual members a say in the selection process.

Allow me to say that I think this will be a tragedy of epic proportions for new writers, particularly those who write quieter novels in less commercial (Read:  Not high fantasy) genres. 

My first novel was a top-10 BBYA.  This was the best thing that could have happened to the book.  It was a small novel which received a $10,000.00 advance and which was published with little fanfare by its large publisher.  No ads, no endcaps, no "marketing plan" listed on the galley, no 100,000 copy first printing.  Reviews were, for the most part, positive (except Kirkus), but the book lacked the "importance" (Read:  publisher push) to receive starred reviews.  Because the market was less crowded then than it is now, it did receive a few honors, PW Flying Starts and something called "Pick of the Lists" a listing by booksellers of promising titles, but it was not carried by Barnes and Noble in hardcover.  There was nothing to make the average reader in a state far away from my own pick it up.

But, nonetheless, the members of the BBYA committee, through their hard work and diligence, did notice the novel.  It was chosen not merely as a BBYA (unanimous pick) but as a Top-10 BBYA.  Since being chosen for this honor, and likely as a direct result of it, Breathing Underwater was listed on seventeen state award master lists and, as a result of that, is on numerous school reading lists.  Its sales remain stable at about 20,000 copies a year eight years later, and I and the teens who love the book have the committee members listed here to thank for that. 

YALSA seems to want to give individual members more say in choosing their favorite books.  I'm sorry, but while this is a nice goal, it is also like asking all Americans to vote on every bill that comes before Congress.  The average librarian is simply not in the loop fast enough to do this.  Many libraries don't even order new books until several months after they come out, or they wait for the BBYA list to be released.  They rely upon the BBYA committee to point out the books which are worthwhile.  This is the whole point of representative democracy, both in our country and in YALSA.  Everyone can not know everything, so they elect people who are responsible for knowing it.   In the case of BBYA, those lists eventually trickle down to the in-the-know librarians in each state, who consider them for state award master lists and tell their friends about them.  A few years later (and Breathing Underwater was making state award master lists -- including my home state -- five years after its publication), regular librarians and teachers within the state know about the book.

A book like Breathing Underwater would never have been chosen for BBYA if it had been up to popular vote, particularly if there were only five slots.  The realistic fiction published the same year as my book included titles by Robert Cormier and Chris Crutcher, award-winners by An Na and Virginia Euwer-Wolff, a force of nature called The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and another school classic, Touching Spirit Bear, by a more established author.  At least one of those books would not have made the top five in a popularity contest, and I'm going to guess it would have been Breathing Underwater for the simple reason that nobody would have heard of it.  I'm going to guess that A Step from Heaven, which won the Printz award, but which was a quiet title from a new author, would also have failed to make the cut.

Remember:  For all these regular librarians to vote a book into BBYA, they would have to read it, which would mean buying it.  

And what of titles which may have less popular appeal due to concentrating on members of minority groups?  Another title on that year's Top-10 was Every Time a Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams Garcia.  I can only imagine how a book like Williams' Garcia's,  which opened with a brutal rape and had a hideous cover, would have fared in a popular vote.  And how about  Alex Sanchez's Rainbow Boys and Sarah Ryan's Empress of the World, both first novels by gay authors and about gay characters which made BBYA, though not Top-10.  Would they have made the cut?  Would any titles featuring minority characters make the cut with the majority?

Since 2001, when my first novel was published, more titles are being published, resulting in it being harder and harder to get reviewed in major media.  Breathing Underwater was reviewed by every major review journal except Hornbook.  I have two friends with 2008 first novels from major publishers.  Neither were "pushed" books.  One was fortunate enough to be reviewed by everyone except Booklist and Hornbook.  She also made BBYA.   Another was less fortunate, being reviewed only by School Library Journal.  It used to be that hardcover books from major publishers got reviewed everywhere except the picky Hornbook.  That is not the case anymore, even for books by established authors (To date, even A Kiss in Time has still not been reviewed by SLJ).  A friend won a Printz Honor a couple of years back without being reviewed by Booklist or Hornbook.  BBYA is one of the few places where every book gets considered, as long as the publishers care enough to send a copy.  But the publishers can't send a free copy to every librarian in YALSA!

Moreover, fewer and fewer are being carried in bookstores.  The titles that are carried are mostly in certain genres, chick lit (though more and more, that is being dropped in favor of vampire fiction) and series fantasy.   My local Borders is not carrying A Kiss in Time or Beastly, despite my local popularity (and the upcoming movie) because all decisions are now being made on a national level.  They have taken out a large portion of their children's section, and I'm told that is to make room for . . . (wait for it) TOYS ("Thirty dollar toys," according to the clerk I spoke with).  The books that aren't carried by the chains are relegated to being so-called "school and library" titles.  But how do they get into the schools and libraries if no one in the know will read them first?  This new system would effectively eliminate the gatekeepers . . . and who would the new gatekeepers be?

I should probably add that while my reasons for wanting BBYA to stay as it is include my own experiences, I do not speak from the perspective of one whose every book has made the list.  Indeed, only two of my first six books made the list (though all but one were nominated).  Two more have made Quick Picks.  At this writing, my current novel is nominated for neither list.   But I think it is important to have the list as a standard-bearer for YA literature.  To hold it to a popular vote would be to put publisher's publicity departments and chain bookstores in charge (even more than they already are) of what gets read and, eventually, what gets published.  And if that happens, it will be like the devil, as described by Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, "just bit by little bit lower[ing] our standards where they're important."

So, in conclusion, I dearly hope that YALSA and the American Library Association will carefully consider all the ramifications of putting the BBYA list to popular vote and only including a certain number of books in each genre.  I fear that this will cause a lot of worthy books to slip through the cracks.  And soon, they won't be published at all.

Update:  Check out Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan's post on Bookends on the same issue.

Current Mood: worried

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Jul. 6th, 2009 12:35 pm Beastly Spanish cover

Just found this article (in Spanish)  with a photo of the Beastly Spanish cover.   It's cool, pretty similar to the American cover.  I've been getting e-mails from all over the Spanish-speaking world about this edition, so someone must be promoting the heck out of it.  This is the first book I've had translated into Spanish since Breathing Underwater, back in 2002.   I don't know if it will be available in this country, though that would be cool since a lot of people here in Miami know Spanish.

There are French, German, and Romanian editions in the offing too.  Will post if I see them. 


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Jul. 3rd, 2009 07:00 am Photo!

Someone posted this photo on a Vanessa Hudgens fansite  It's Vanessa and Alex Pettyfer on the set of Beastly. 




I'm not sure what scene this is (and I've read the script) because they are clearly outside and together, and he's not a Beast.  But, anyway, cool to see a photo.  My film agent is going to the set next week with his daughters (It must be AMAZING to have a dad who is a film agent, right?), and I'll be there later this month.   I'm really looking forward to it.  Yesterday, a friend loaned my husband two travel guides for Montreal, so I've got to start planning.

By the way, my new and improved website is up at www.alexflinn.com  I am finally out of Smartwriters hell.  If you need a website designer, I can recommend www.ink2art.com

Current Mood: curious

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Jul. 2nd, 2009 06:06 am HarperTeen Browse Inside Feature and Disney movie article

A Kiss in Time is on the front page of the HarperTeen website.  If you click on it, you can read quite a long excerpt (I'm actually shocked at how long it is) from the book.  Just be sure and stop before the part that says, "Two Years Later," because for some reason, they have included an excerpt from the beginning, then the last chapter. 

Also, thought this was an interesting article.    It's from a Disney fansite, and it recommends Beastly (while contrasting it with the Disney version of B&B, which I LOVED because a lot of people seem to think that the Disney version is the original story -- It isn't, though I do give them credit for fixing a few flaws in the original story, such as why on earth would Beauty's father abandon her to the Beast in the first place???).  But that's not the only thing I'm jazzed about in the article.  First off, it says that the Disney B&B is set to be released in digital 3D!  I'm trying to picture this and really looking forward to the scene where the "servants" attack Gaston and the villagers.   It's set to release in February.  I will be there.  There are also plans for a live action version.

But, more importantly, Disney has reserved the website www.maleficentmovie.com (not a working link yet).  Those who have read A Kiss in Time in full know that I have a soft spot in my heart for the evil fairy who curses Sleeping Beauty, and that I gave her a backstory beyond merely not being invited to a party (though, as the parent of girls, I do know that party invitations can be VERY important).  Maleficent was my favorite Disney villain for many years.  Though, at present, she has been displaced by Ursula because Ursula also sings (When Meredith was younger, we had to listen to "Poor Unfortunate Souls" EVERY SINGLE DAY in the car to preschool),  the Green, Horned-hatted one still scares the #$*! out of my kids in the Disney's Hollywood Studios Fantasmic!  show.  Will the Maleficent movie be shades of Gregory Maguire's Wicked?  I can only hope so.




Current Mood: excited

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Jun. 24th, 2009 12:54 pm Check out PW

Elizabeth Bluemle has a fun article about time-sucking web-surfs.    And she mentions my review in "Worst Review Ever,"  a funny site everyone should visit.  She also has several other interesting places to visit.

Current Mood: amused

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Jun. 23rd, 2009 03:23 pm OMG! The Beast!



CBS Films has up a new website for the movie. www.beastlythemovie.com There's not much on it, yet, but still cool.

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