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January 2012

YA Wednesday: More Young Adult Award Winners

Earlier this week, the winners of the American Library Association (ALA)'s top children's and teens awards were announced at their annual midwinter conference. It's the most exciting day of the year for those of us who love kid's lit as the Caldecott, Printz, and Newbery are akin to the film industry's Oscars®.

However above and beyond these three awards, the ALA also recognizes a number of other authors/titles for their recent contributions to the young adult genre. While perhaps less recognizable they're no less important. These honors include:

The Stonewall Book Award recognizes English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience. One winner and four Honor books were announced:


The William C. Morris Award is given to exceptional debuts by first-time authors writing for teens. One winner and four finalists were announced:


The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults between the ages of 12 and 18. One winner and four finalists were announced: Benedict

Last but certainly not least, Susan Cooper, author of the Dark is Rising sequence, received the Margaret A. Edwards award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

Thanks to all for their amazing contributions to young adult literature and, of course, congratulations!

The Demi-Monde: A High Concept Sci Fi Thriller for Fans of Neal Stephenson

Demi-Monde Winter

The just-released The Demi-Monde: Winter by Rod Rees comes complete with a frothing blurbalicious frenzy courtesy of Book Reporter: “A brilliant, high concept series that blends science fiction and thriller, Steampunk and dystopian vision. If Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, James Rollins, and Clive Cussler participated in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, the result might be something akin to [this novel’s] dark and ingenious madness.”

While that description may be over the top, The Demi-Monde: Winter does seem destined to be one of January’s more original reads. The Demi-Monde< of the title is a sophisticated U.S. military computer simulation designed to provide a virtual training ground for urban combat. Thus, the world of the Demi-Monde is gripped by perpetual civil war. Stocked with infamous tyrants much as a trout pond is stocked with, erm, trout, the Demi-Monde features cyber-duplicates of Shaka Zulu, Ivan the Terrible, and even Aleister Crowley. (Poor Crowley—he’s so misunderstood.) The author has spent his life traveling the world, living for a time in Qatar, Tehran, and Moscow, and the novel reflects this experience. He’s also created his own religions for the Demi-Monde, including Unfundementalism, HerEticalism, HimPerialism, RaTionalism, and Confusionism.

As might be expected, things go terribly wrong and the President’s daughter winds up trapped in the Demi-Monde by two diabolical villains. A young jazz singer must then attempt a rescue before devastating consequences affect the real world.

There’s more than a hint of camp and the theatrical to The Demi-Monde, to go along with the action and twists and turn of plot. It should satisfy a lot of readers looking for an exciting, thick read this month.

Trend Stetting 11: Tend of Days

If you haven't been glued to the Weather Channel lately, you might not realize that we Seattleites can now count ourselves as proud survivors of Snowmageddon 2012—also known as the Slushocalypse and a Major Snow Event.

Whatever you call the weather in this town, it hasn't been kind to the U.S. Postal Service. So I'm afraid all the fun new grammar and style books I ordered haven't arrived yet, and you'll just have to endure another list. To make amends, I dug into the archives of one of the finest, snarkiest listmakers in the land: McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

That's right—this is a list of lists, at least partially. There are also funny non-lists in this list. Have I lost you yet? Remember, I was snowbound in my house for days. Be kind.

Here are 10 of my favorite McSweeney's pieces about language, in ascending order of awesomeness. (Note for delicate readers: The contents of this list are rated PG-13.)

10. Spelling Words with "K". "Words Rendered Funny by Spelling with 'K': Kamp, Kollege, Krunchy, Kat, Krazy."

9. Injudicious Uses of Exclamation Points in the Teacher's Video Company Catalog. "Laurence Olivier captures the hubris of the fallen king!"

8. Grammatical and Other Errors Recently Found in an Official Government Document, in Alphabetical Order. "Small, disadvantegeous businesses."

Continue reading "Trend Stetting 11: Tend of Days" »

The Books Behind the 2012 Academy Awards


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should tack a couple more words onto that mildly pretentious name of theirs... The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and books. This morning, the Academy announced their nominees for the Oscars, and books were well-represented. In fact, many of the nominated movies started out as books.

Take a look at the Best Picture category alone. Here's the full list of Best Picture nominees - movies that started out as books are in bold.


    "The Artist"

    "The Descendants"

    "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

    "The Help"


    "Midnight in Paris"


    "The Tree of Life"

    "War Horse"


That's 6 out of 9, a whopping two-thirds. And that's just Best Picture. Below is a full tally of Oscar-nominated movies that originated from books (links to the books provided; let me know in the comments if I missed anything). These books are drawing A-level talent-- George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, and Martin Scorcese to name a few. Be proud, book lovers.

Continue reading "The Books Behind the 2012 Academy Awards" »

10 Rules for a Hitman to Live By

HitmanTomislav Boksic (aka Toxic), the hero of Hallgrimur Helgason's new comic thriller The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning, had a record of 66 perfect kills. Then came the 67th—an undercover FBI agent—and suddenly he found himself in Iceland with a new identity. Oops. Avoid this kind of careless error by following Toxic's handy tips.

1. Don't miss the target. People tend to get a bit upset if they notice you're trying to kill them.
2. Don't waste a bullet. You have to think about the environment, too—you really shouldn't add an unnecessary gunshot to an already noisy city.
3. Morning is for murder. Nobody expects a bullet for breakfast.
4. Don't kill a priest. He who kills a man of the church will be killed by a church.
5. Don't confuse killing and murder. Murder is for amateurs, killing is for the professionals.
6. If you have to take on another person's identity, never let it be a priest's. With that collar around your neck, your sex appeal is gone.
7. When you're dating, don't talk about your job—unless you're overseas. Foreign girls are crazy about guys who kill Americans.
8. Embrace every new passport they give you. It's always nice to get a new life now and then.
9. Don't kill the wrong guy. Or you'll end up in Iceland.
10. When in Iceland, stop the killing. There are so few of them.


Media Monday


The National Book Critics Circle and the American Library Association both had book award events this week-- one to name their shortlists, the other to name their winners. Those lists can be found elsewhere on this blog. In the meantime, there is a lot of other books media to talk about.


New York Times

  • Charlies Isherwood reviews Ben Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson, about Shakespeare's more famous (at the time they were alive, anyway) fellow writer and compatriot. In his review, Isherwood points out "Jonson was the more celebrated and multifariously accomplished figure during his time and in the years immediately after his death in 1637, but his plays are produced relatively rarely today — only 'Volpone' and 'The Alchemist' are widely known — and his poetry is read more rarely still. Shakespeare has emerged as the great genius of the age, the author of plays that will hold the stage as long as there are stages to hold, and a cycle of sonnets that are almost equally prized." Mark a point for posterity. Today you might only be a shy, fairly famous and prolific poet and playwright, but be assured that hundreds of years from now you may be celebrated as a genius. But if Shakespeare's the genius and Jonson earns murmurs and whispers that he was overrated during his time, why should we read about Ben Jonson today? For starters, Isherwood calls the book "deeply researched but happily readable." Two, Jonson-- who was and remains a literary giant in his own right (not overrated, just overshadowed)-- led a life that was worlds more interesting than Shakespeare's, whose "comparative invisibility during his lifetime has certainly posed intractable problems in the centuries since his death, as the eternal and tedious arguments over the authorship of his plays illustrate. Had he the foresight to make himself the colorful and combative public figure Jonson was — jailed several times, famed for insobriety, sometime friend and sometime foe of the mighty names of his age — we would not be plagued by the rankling theories of the Oxfordians that still clamor today." And finally, this behavior helped to establish the writer as a presence in English life-- Jonson was "Britain’s first literary celebrity.”


  • After pointing out that Ben Marcus has only written four books in his 20-year career, reviewer J. Robert Lennon describes Marcus's work as having "earned him critical praise and a small army of devoted fans," and as having, until now, "forsaken the conventional trappings of narrative." But, Lennon tells us, "The Flame Alphabet, his first new book in a decade, has the feel of an event. And though it is recognizably by the same author, it is also something of a surprise. It has a plot, and a protagonist, and at times it even threatens to become a thriller."

  • A book that will most certainly be subject to personal taste is That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion by Rachel Herz. Why would anybody want to read that? you might ask. Reviewer Robin Marantz Henig gives the following analysis: "Disgust, Herz writes, is one of 'the six basic human emotions' (along with happiness, sadness, anger, fear and surprise) that any healthy adult 'can experience and recognize.' She says emotional disgust is the only one, among living creatures, that’s unique to humans, and the only one that has to be learned." Rather than list all the disgusting things in this book, I will give you a link to the review, in which you may peruse the various disgusting foods, etc. yourself. For those brave (or just curious) enough to read the review, they may find these gross details generate a reaction that's deeper than they'd anticipated. As the review puts it, disgusting is in the eye of the beholder, and "disgust is not an automatic reaction, like fear; it’s 'an unfolding and cognitive emotion.'”

Continue reading "Media Monday" »

2012 Children's Book Award Winners Announced


This morning I got up at 5 a.m. to see (via webcast) the 2012 winners of the biggest awards in children's publishing--the American Library Association (ALA) awards.  The film industry has their Golden Globes® and their Oscars®, and we have the Caldecott and Newbery Medals, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Michael J. Printz Award.  Unlike most other book awards, the major children's book awards given by the ALA have no lists of finalists or nominees.  It's a surprise every single year (with plenty of speculation beforehand) and I kind of love the secrecy.  This year's announcement had both the unexpected and the "ah, of course" books on the lists (including some 2011 Best of the Month titles)--you just never know who is going to win what. Congratulations to this year's winning and honored authors and illustrators:


2012 Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:


2012 Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:



2012 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults:  


2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award recognizing an African American author of outstanding books for children and young adults:


2012 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award:



2012 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book:



2012 Pura Belpré Award honoring a Latino writer whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience:



Quite a list, no?  Did some of your favorites win a medal or honor this year or do you have some that would have made the cut if you were judging?  I'd love to hear your thoughts. --Seira

Give Your Characters a Voice: Writing Strong Dialogue

WritersdontcryEver finish a book and feel like you were losing some of your best friends? Or ever getStrongdialogue addicted to a series just because you had to see what happened to the characters, plot be damned? Finishing a book can be ruthlessly traumatic because the characters you have spent so many cozy hours getting to know will never say anything new ever again. You know these characters better than you know most people. You know exactly what they would say in any given circumstance. And, most interestingly, you could write whole books of fan fiction with your favorite characters—and other fans could tell you when you mislabeled bits of dialogue.

Because when your dialogue is strong enough, and each character has a unique voice, readers not only feel like they’ve known your characters their whole life—they fall in love with them. It’s the inspiration behind fan art and fan fiction. It’s the source of daydreams and cosplay. It’s the font of almost all book quotes, and it’s the only thing that remains (mostly) the same when a movie is made.

Strong dialogue defines memorable characters. So what can your characters say to make readers fall in love with them?

DO Keep It Real—Only Better

“There are, ah, problems with the boy, yes. But the problems are unique to his situation in my care. Were he under yours, I’m sure they would, ahhhh, vanish.”

“Oh. You have a magic boy. Why didn’t you say so?” The priest scratched his forehead beneath the white silk blindfold that covered his eyes. “Magnificent. I’ll plant him in the [censored to protect the innocent] ground and grow a vine to an enchanted land beyond the clouds.”

“Ahhhhh! I’ve tasted that flavor of sarcasm before, Chains.” The Thiefmaker gave an arthritic mock bow. “That’s the sort you spit out as a bargaining posture. Is it really so hard to say that you’re interested?”

The Eyeless Priest shrugged. “Suppose Calo, Galdo, and Sabetha might be able to use a new playmate, or at least a new punching bag. Suppose I’m willing to spend about three coppers and a bowl of piss for a mystery boy. But you’ll still need to convince me that you deserve the bowl of piss. What’s the boy’s problem?”

“His problem,” said the Thiefmaker, “is that if I can’t sell him to you, I’m going to have to slit his throat and throw him in the bay. And I’m going to have to do it tonight.”—The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

This scene is a brilliant introduction of character and concept. You gain truckloads of information about the plot, the city Camor, the priest, the Thiefmaker, and Locke Lamora himself, even though the latter is not in scene. Much more than listing their exploits or statistics, or using adjectives like sneaky and sly. In addition, you cannot predict a single response in this witty back-and-forth. Substantially different from standard salutations, you are forced to hang on every word the Thiefmaker and the priest say, because these two charismatic characters are so inventive that their interactions, while natural feeling, are anything but rote.

Continue reading "Give Your Characters a Voice: Writing Strong Dialogue" »

Finalists Announced for the National Book Critics Circle Awards

Finalists for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle awards were announced today at Artists Space in New York.

Among this year’s presenters were recent NBCC finalists and winners Jennifer Egan (fiction), Siddhartha Mukherjee (nonfiction), Elif Batuman (criticism), Kathleen Graber (poetry), Yunte Huang (biography), Darin Strauss (autobiography), and Parul Sehgal (Nona Balakian Citation).











Continue reading "Finalists Announced for the National Book Critics Circle Awards" »

"Go The F**k To Sleep" Author Adam Mansbach

GTFA year ago, Adam Mansbach was a respected author, poet, and musician known for his thoughtful novels, lectures, and raps. Fast forward a bit, and he's the guy who got the F word into a children's book title. That book grew from Mansbach's satiric Facebook post one morning after his two-year-old daughter refused to go to bed. Mansbach told Facebookers to look for his forthcoming book, "Go the ___ to Sleep." It was a joke that became a book that became a #2 Amazon best seller six months before it was even published. (It's still ranked in the top 100.)

In this exclusive Amazon interview, Mansbach discusses the unexpected success of his best-selling pseudo-children's nighttime book, Go the F**k To Sleep.