Thursday, October 18, 2007

Scrambled-Brain Ramble

We're in the middle of Summer 2008 Sales Conference now, which means meetings. Presentations. Worry about whether the sales reps like your books. Extra worry if they don't like your covers. Constant conversations, lunches, dinners. And trying to do regular work on top of that. I've been sending out letters requesting blurbs for my kickass Japanese martial-arts novel -- Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, by Nahoko Uehashi -- and that's going well, fingers crossed. (I described this book at Sales Conference today as "Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 meets Ursula K. LeGuin by way of Bruce Lee" -- which still doesn't quite do it justice, I'm thrilled to say.) Also editing Fall 2008 novels; and trying to remember I have an SCBWI presentation to write. Urgh.

I opened the first half of my September/October SQUIDs tonight (after America's Next Top Model -- and how glad am I that Heather is still in the running? I can't see her winning -- I pick, let's see, Lisa -- but in the meantime, yay for socially awkward intelligent girls!). I get some very good submissions, so thank you, everyone who's sent stuff along. The trend du this month is picture book manuscripts about children missing overseas relatives in the military. Actually this is a trend most all the time, now that I think of it, as there's usually at least one in each batch, but I've read three already this round. . . . It's tricky publishing, because goodness knows what will be happening with the war in Iraq by the time these manuscripts would be illustrated and ready to go; but as we have soldiers overseas even in times of putative peace, it's always a sadly relevant topic.

Finally, your bit of acid-tongued criticism/thought-provoking essay of the week: Wonder Bread, by Melvin Jules Bukiet (someone on child_lit referred the list to this, to give credit where it is due). Bukiet rips apart writers of what he refers to as "Brooklyn Books of Wonder": Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, Myla Goldberg, Dave Eggers, Alice Sebold (who does not actually live in our fair borough) -- and takes some swipes at YA literature along the way:

Two other kinds of books have children as protagonists. The first are serious
novels by serious writers. Beginning in the postwar era with William Golding’s
Lord of the Flies, this category includes David Grossman’s See Under: Love and
The Book of Intimate Grammar and Steven Millhauser’s Edwin Mullhouse. The second group is made up of so-called young-adult novels that ostensibly face “issues” but pull punches for their tender audience. Like many YA novels, which are
constructed for a pedagogical market, the BBoWs insist on finding a therapeutic
lesson in their dark material.

Some of his criticism of the so-called BBoWs is justified; other bits seem unfair and inconsistent to me -- Bee Season, for instance, hardly has a happy, therapeutic ending, and he misses the larger cultural point of Kavalier and Clay. But I was fascinated by his conclusion:
So what’s so terribly wrong with all this? BBoWs are benign and smart and claim
important antecedents (Krauss’s pantheon, Auster’s nods to Borges and Calvino,
Foer’s echoes of G√ľnter Grass before the latter’s recent . . . um . . .
awkwardness), and some are stunning prose stylists (Eggers and Chabon and
Krauss) who clearly have literary talent to spare. That’s precisely why their
books are more insidious than simpler genre novels wherein people manage to
triumph over trauma. In fact, trauma’s never overcome. That’s what defines it.
Your father is dead, or your mother, and so are most of the Jews of Europe, and
the World Trade Center’s gone, and racism prevails, and sex murders occur. What
is, is. The real is the true, and anything that suggests otherwise, no matter
how artfully constructed, is a violation of human experience.

He is, again, right to some extent -- what is, is, and is never fully overcome. But what is also goes on -- people go on, life goes on -- and hope is born anew with that continuation. Mr. Bukiet could call that thought sentimental, but it's as real and true as the deaths, and suggesting that life does not go on after trauma, that some recovery or good things do not happen, is equally a violation of human experience, and a graver one, because it denies that hope. Your thoughts?

I am now going to take my scrambled brains and turn them sunny side up in bed. Good night and good wishes to all of you.


  1. Regarding SQUIDs -- if, um, hypothetically, one sent you a SQUID query and you requested the full manuscript and one didn't hear back for six months -- should one assume it's a pass? Thanks so much.

  2. And, if one sent you a SQUID the last week of August, would that possibly be in this batch? Thank you!!

  3. Yes, life goes on, but it goes on differently. FOr me, a novel is as much about how the characters are changed by what has happened to them as the actual happening.
    No, YA novels shouldn't have to have a happy ending, but neither do they have to end with gloom and doom. I like a novel that ends with some kind of light that might show the way forward, and leave the rest up to the reader.
    I hate the assumption that everyone reads the same books in the same way. The best discussions are when you and your friends all see something different in a book.

  4. Humph. Some valid points, but...I can't agree with "trauma's never overcome"; that only seems true if overcoming only means a return to what was, or some sort of other rigid definition that implies a very narrow existence. I also don't like the implication that hope or some sort of transformation isn't 'real'...And I love Sherryl's pint about variation in readers' response...Oh, I'm rambling myself.

  5. Here's my thought: Cheryl couldn't have said it better.

    I do believe there's hope at the bottom of Pandora's box.

  6. Hope you're able to wrestle the marketing division around to your pov in the sales conferences.

    "What is, is. The real is the true, and anything that suggests otherwise, no matter how artfully constructed, is a violation of human experience."

    Two words: Dante's Paradiso!

    Let's see if I'm understanding the guys. So basically you can have Mother Theresa over here and Hitler over there, but Mother Theresa's acts are not as real, or true, as Hitler's was. That art violates human experience if trauma is transcended.

    I think that's b-u-double ell bull. This whole Social Darwinistic thing is so *in* right now; it's so sophisticated if you can manage to bleed more in your fiction while making it look pretty, but I've been fed up for a long time with privileged white guys complaining about how brutal the world is. Yeah, the world is brutal, but there are too many people out there transcending their traumas to say that art fails if it affirms life.

    Maybe art should be judged on its own merits instead of some arbitrary standard. So Dante has violated human experience by rising from joy to joy in the Paradiso. Whoop-dee-do. That's the biggest crock I've ever heard. I'm going to bed.

  7. So why not shoot yourself with life being so traumatic? There has to be joy and hope somewhere, even if it takes awhile to find it again after a trauma. Stories can work as touchstones and reminders that life is worth living - even with scars. Personally, I do agree that there are many books that have overly happy endings, but sometimes we need them. Great editorial conundrum, to bring em up or down. I work at a school where many kids have had more trauma in there lives already than most NY editors have seen as adults. I think they like their trauma with a bit of sugar.

  8. What's a SQUID? From your post I'm guess they're unsolicited submission, but based on an earlier post on your blog, I see that they're commonly misused homophones.

    Confusedly yours,

  9. Check out this link to learn about SQUID's.

  10. Gotta go read for my kid's class, but here's a quickie response before I go:

    What is, is. Sure. But I'm not sure "what is" is the subject of art (or even kitsch). Art (or whatever we're talking about) deals with was, could be, might have been, will be, had been, could have been, etc.
    As such, "sappy" endings are fair game.
    As to Blaming Brooklyn for this phenomenon? Hm. I can see how moving across the bridge can make a person take stock of whatever effort he or she put into "making it" in Manhattan. And, self-delusion being what it is, why not give it a positive spin?
    To paraphrase some (probably misremembered) Nietzsche: in the battle between memory and pride, pride wins.

  11. Also, regarding Sebold, the Guardian's "Digested Read" has a pretty funny take on Sebold's newest. Enjoy:,,2192125,00.html

  12. And if someone sent a SQUID (or even a SQUIB) back in April, not realizing you were involved in your many HP adventures, and has not heard anything.... What would that mean?


  13. Hey Cheryl, I know this is slightly out of the post but did you go for the event at Carnegie hall? What do you think of Dumbledore being gay? Honestly, it hasnt made a difference to me but Jo calling him "Machiavellian" has. I think thats a little strong especially since she added that "he used Harry as a puppet"...