Monday, September 27, 2010

Cover Concepts for My Book!

For a long time--right up until this afternoon, in fact--I thought I knew exactly what Second Sight was going to look like: a pair of glasses spanning the width of the cover, held by their outside corners by a pair of fingers, with the title type floating over them and my name below. Then my book designer stopped by my office with the bad news: This image was so thin that it didn't take up much space vertically, which left the cover looking really awkward and unbalanced . . . and altogether, it was not going to fly.

I was momentarily cast down, but like all bad ideas that get recognized as bad ideas, this helped clarify my priorities (particularly this: I REALLY want eyeglasses on the cover) and cleared the way for better ideas, of which I quickly had four. If you'll forgive the self-indulgence, I'm going to analyze these four ideas the way we analyze cover ideas in-house, for first what they say about the book in and of itself and then how the covers might connect with my intended audience (adult writers of children's and YA literature). Pardon the lousy sketching and type design.

A., Left. Glasses on top of a stack of books with the title written on their spines. This looks booky; the image fills the space well; it offers an opportunity for lots of good colors on the spines (and I love bright colors) and fun glasses on top. This kind of cover has certainly been done before, but the covers it alludes to (in my mind, at least) are all good ties for the kind of book this is: Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose, which is a similar reading-and-writing book, and Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time by Lisa Yee and I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan, which are both titles off my own list. So I like this one a lot.

B., Right. I think of this as the McSweeney's cover, as it would be mostly the gracious, formal type that's used on the inside of the book, with three or so small images of eyeglasses between the lines, most likely photographs (though it would be neat to find a cartoonist who could draw all of these glasses for cheap, if their style suited the font and the book). I was thinking a conventional or cats'-eye pair of glasses up top, a set of 3-D specs in the middle, and a Groucho Marx set down at bottom, to convey all the different ways one can look at writing, and also hopefully the book's blend of both seriousness and fun. OTOH, a pair of Groucho Marx glasses may convey not "fun" but ridiculousness or absurdity. None of those images say "books" or "writing" or "editing" directly, so a potential book-buyer would have to read the text for that, which slows down the potential buyer's emotional reaction, which slows down their buying reaction. And the images are really small, which means the cover might not reproduce well online, where it could be an inch tall on a computer screen. And as online will be one of the two primary ways I'm selling this book, it's important that it be instantly visually readable. Hrmm.

C., Left: A page made to look like a piece of notebook paper, with a pair of glasses resting on it. . . . Maybe add a pencil too to get the writing thing across more immediately. The most obviously writerly of these options; also, perhaps, the most academic and boring. But it could be fun if it was done well. (That's the challenge with book cover concepts as with plot concepts: As great as the raw idea may seem, everything is in the execution.)

D., Right: A plain background with floating type and a stock photo of a dachshund in oversized glasses. I adore dachshunds for their dignity in the face of their physical ridiculousness, and this image is so darling that I imagine it might get a lot of readers to pick up the book. Indeed, in that way, it would connect to Rule #1 of children's publishing: Cute dogs sell. But the image ultimately suffers the same lack of instant connection to the book's subject as B. above, and having a dachshund in oversized glasses on your front cover is not, perhaps, the best way to have your serious writing book taken seriously.

So of all of these options, I'm leaning towards A. -- or whatever my book designer will come up with, which will doubtless be much more original and all-around better than anything I've tossed out here. Anyone want to propose alternate concepts or change my mind?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Some Things I'm Reading, Watching, & Thinking About

Previous posts on this topic:

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Fall 2010 Books: STARCROSSED by Elizabeth C. Bunce

When we were coming to the end of the editorial process on A Curse Dark as Gold, I asked Elizabeth C. Bunce what she was working on next. She said hesitantly, "It's a novel about a girl cat burglar in the middle of a religious civil war," and I said, "Oh, I LOVE religious civil war!" At which point she made fun of me for being a dork, but it was true; and what I love about (fictional) religious civil war is that it offers the possibility of so much rich and deeply felt conflict -- between two religions or two citizens on different sides, who may have other bonds that they then have to choose between. . . . So much delicious drama!

And the book definitely pays that off. But to dwell on it too much here is to obscure the other bit of awesomeness in her description, which is "girl cat burglar"; and this is indeed primarily the story of a girl cat burglar -- one who can see forbidden magic -- caught in a snowbound castle, with several factions of that brewing magical-religious civil war circling around her. And just as that plot implies, there is lots of sneaking and spying and magic and deeply hidden secrets and grand confrontations -- reminiscent of Sherwood Smith or Tamora Pierce or George R. R. Martin, perfect for curling up with and getting lost in on a cool autumn day. As the Horn Book review said: ". . . satisfyingly stuffed with plots and subplots, towers and hidden chambers, genteel pastimes and death-defying feats. Celyn is a strong, imaginative heroine-more than the generic 'feisty girl,' and the rest of the female cast also show noteworthy fortitude and inventiveness." Hurrah!

Check out Elizabeth's marvelous book trailer for the book:

Some things I love in the book, for readers to watch for:

  • “Well, then, Celyn Contrare, it looks like you’re ours for keeps. . . . Give some accounting for yourself, and pray Tiboran made you a more entertaining storyteller than my son. And perhaps we won’t make you sleep in the scullery with the rats.” / “I’ve slept with rats before, milord.” Which didn’t sound at all like I’d intended
  • The unique chess game that Elizabeth has invented, and the clever way it's used in the scene in which it appears
  • How well and deeply she's worked out the seven gods and their associated powers and followers
  • All the excellent backstories for the human characters as well
  • How much this is a book-lover's book -- it involves reading and forging and secret codes and all sorts of delicious booky things like that
  • The descriptions -- of the castle, the clothes, the meals; and the heroine's description of her home city of Gerse in one critical scene
  • I paused in the threshold. “Why don’t you do it?” / He smiled. “Because I have you.”
  • "What do we always do with them?" -- a line spoken by the villain, and hence one to put ice in the heart.
  • The final climax, which made me behave rather more as if I were watching the climax of an action movie than reading a fantasy novel (e.g. some fist-pumping and woo-hoos)
And other links:
Check back here soon for a Q&A with Elizabeth and a secret about the cover!

Monday, September 20, 2010


Herewith beginning a short series of posts introducing my books on the AALB Fall 2010 list:

by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat. Coedited by Arthur and moi. In his first outing, 2009's Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally), Bobby Ellis-Chan accidentally precipitated an all-out boys vs. girls war. His second outing continues to explore the question of what makes a real man (in fourth grade, anyway), as Bobby has to face his fears on various fronts: against the evil six-toed cat down the street, in the class production of "Annie," with his recurring asthma, and after he hears his former pro-linebacker father say, "He's not like me." It is once again laugh-out-loud funny and lump-in-throat touching in both its text and art, with a great new cover look by the ever-versatile Dan Santat. Take it away, School Library Journal: "Readers will devour the fast-paced writing, spot-on dialogue, and heartfelt lessons embedded in the text and empathize with the sometimes-brave Bobby, his worries about his place in his family and at school, and his struggles and successes."

My favorite lines:

  • Jillian Zarr threw her head back when she laughed. She was the only person Bobby knew who did this, other than the evil genius from that movie Kid Kops.
  • One could never tell what the scary cat was thinking. That was the problem with sinister beings. They hardly ever told you what they were up to.
  • Bobby just shrugged. “Things,” he said.
More links:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Three E-mail Boxes

One of them public and important, two of them personal and somewhat trivial:

1. See the e-mail box here on the Springfield, Mo. News-Leader letters to the editor page? If you're a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, stand up to the Neanderthal who described the book as "soft pornography" and let them know why it and Slaughterhouse-Five should stay in the Republic school district. Maybe cc: your e-mail to the superintendent,, or the principal,, to be sure your message gets heard.

2. See the e-mail box over in the right sidebar? You can enter your e-mail address there to have these blogs delivered to you via e-mail, through a Google Group called chavelaque.

3. See the one smack-dab in the center of the front page of You can enter your address there for updates regarding my book, Second Sight (in first page proofs! and soon to have a cover!); future appearances; and my website in general (e.g. when a new talk is posted), through a Google Group called cherylkleindotcom. The e-mail from this address will be fairly infrequent -- I'd estimate no more than six or seven messages a year -- and neither list will be shared with anyone else. Thanks for your interest.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

All Thumb(nail)s

Earlier today, I wanted to paginate a picture-book manuscript I'm thinking about, to see how the text would play out over 32 pages; so I went on the Internet to see if there was an easy template for thumbnail illustrations that I could download and print out. Alas and alack, the Internet did not provide! So I whipped up a thumbnails template of my own in Microsoft Word, as seen above, and I bestow it upon the Internet for free downloading here. You're welcome, 'nettie dear.

While we're on the subject of cool Internet things, do you know about It's my very favorite file conversion service, which transformed the Word doc of my thumbnails to the JPEG image above in thirty seconds flat. Feel free to leave any other genuinely useful sites in the comments.

And hey, while I have your attention:

  • Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Eighth Grade Superzero) and Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors) will both be appearing at the Brooklyn Book Festival Youth Stoop this Sunday. They're both as wonderful in person as their books are on the page -- do check them out.
  • The next night, September 13, is Kidlit Drink Night! 6:30 p.m. at the Ginger Man.
  • In January, I'm going to lead the editorial strand at the ever-wonderful Kindling Words East. The fabulous E. Lockhart will lead the author strand; the brilliant Mordecai Gerstein the illustrator strand. (Note that the dates this year conflict with SCBWI Midwinter in New York.) Registration opens and closes this Sunday, Sept. 12, so mark your calendars to enter the lottery in a timely fashion.
Happy fall!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

On the Cultural Contributions of Switzerland

In honor of the US Open, and in case you hadn't seen it -- loved this:

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Genius of Taylor Swift, and a Ramble about Romance

I've mentioned my fascination with Taylor Swift's songs before on this blog, and I'm going to ramble about her a little more tonight, because I think she's the greatest YA poet in pop culture these days: a lyrical writer who is able to go straight to some key teen-girl conflict or emotion and render it into evocative narrative form. (The "You Belong to Me" video is a practically perfect YA novel in three minutes and forty-eight seconds.) She also tends to affirm extremely traditional gender roles and standards of beauty -- cf. the focus on Daddy's approval in "Love Story," her losing the glasses in the last scene of the aforementioned video, and the general passivity of her protagonists/narrators -- but the pleasure of her storytelling makes up for the failure of her feminist politics for me at present. . . . Not all blonde female country stars can be the Dixie Chicks.

Anyway, the song of hers that's been rolling around my head lately is "Mine," as it's the one getting the most airplay these days on my Top 40 station (video linked there, full lyrics here). It has the typical Taylor Swift virtue of telling a complete three-act story in three verses and a bridge, including a big reversal in the final chorus, but there's more depth of characterization to it than in her previous songs; instead of being the perfect china doll waiting for the boy to claim her, the narrator's a "flight risk" whose family history makes her fight falling in love. Indeed, the line that keeps blowing me away in the song is this in the chorus, addressed to the man who changed her mind:

You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter

The thing that so impresses me about this line is that it implies four layers of relationship in those ten words:

  1. The daughter/narrator's relationship with her father -- her distrust of him because of the hurt he presumably caused her with his carelessness
  2. The daughter/narrator with her self -- her distrust of her father led her to become careful in reaction to his carelessness
  3. The daughter/narrator with the lover being addressed -- this guy loved her so much, and vice versa, that she changed her meticulous nature for him and became a rebel
  4. The daughter/narrator with the world -- and then she was better able to face the difficulties of the world because she had his love and that new rebellious spirit
As someone who loves relationship stories and admires efficient storytelling and characterization, I just have to say: "Damn. That is excellent writing."

This also made me think about elements of great fictional romances. This is something I've thought about a LOT, actually, going back to my passion for Jane Austen and Dorothy Sayers and Shakespeare's romantic comedies in high school and college, and my love for Jennifer Crusie and Georgette Heyer today. . . . One of the parts of the editorial job I like the best is that it lets me be a machinist for stories: I get to take them apart and see how they work. And when I do that with romances, I come up with this list of common elements.

(I also acknowledge the highly general, even stereotypical, gender roles discussed below; and I'll add that I think the most satisfying romances are those where these elements are used in the story of two highly distinct individuals who are on an equal footing in their relationship. Serious power imbalances in romances always make me really uneasy.)
  1. Moral education -- the other person makes you a better person . . . "completes you," to use the Jerry Maguire phrase (though I always preferred the thought that "Your true love isn't the person who completes you; it's the person who helps you complete yourself"). This is Emma, Pride & Prejudice, "As You Like It," Gaudy Night . . . all of the Rationalist romances I discuss at this link usually focus on moral education in some way.
  2. A change in someone's essential nature -- this is not only #3 in "Mine" above, it's what makes the Pemberley twist in P&P so great, when Elizabeth shows up at his house and Darcy seems like a completely different person: He loved her enough to reform his behavior and become a better man for her. I don't know if there IS a bigger female fantasy.
  3. Being wanted -- except, of course, just plain being desired. This is what happens at the climax of "Mine," where it turns out he's been thinking the exact same things she's been thinking about him all this time, and "You are the best thing that's ever been mine."
  4. Being the only one -- and the amplification of #3, being not just the wanted one, but the ONLY one EVER in the HISTORY of TIME who could inspire this love in the lover. This is one reason Twilight works, I think, because Bella is SO special to Edward and then Jacob in a way many people long for. . . . All the "soulmates" stuff plays on this too. It's interesting that many fantasies with male protagonists also feature this "only one" trope, but there it is foretold in a prophecy that the protagonist must save the world entire in some way. In other words, in female fantasies, women get to be special to one person; in male fantasies, the hero gets the adulation of the world.
  5. Being seen -- what "being wanted" often starts with: the look that recognizes you and your essential, deep-down worth, no matter how hidden. Cinderella stories are all based upon the premise of being seen; "You Belong with Me" is all about not being seen and then suddenly being revealed.
  6. Being in control -- For teenage girls especially, it's hugely empowering to be the one in control, the one saying "Yes" or "No" to the young man who's at your feet -- and he has to obey you. Especially potent in combination with sexuality, putting that decision-making power in a girl's hands.
  7. Breaking free -- On the other hand, if you've been controlled all your life, maybe being in love sets you free to be uncontrolled, as in "Mine" above. And rebellion is always sexy, at least in theory. (I think this is the way Wuthering Heights is supposed to work -- Heathcliff and Cathy breaking through the bonds of society and possibly sanity and death to be together -- but I respect that book more than I find it romantic.)
  8. Forbiddenness -- obviously. "Love Story" and also Twilight play off this.
  9. Separation -- I'm thinking of the delicious ache at the end of The Amber Spyglass and "Before Sunrise" here, how romantic it is that they can't be together.
  10. Death -- the ultimate separation. The 1970s Love Story book and film and Romeo and Juliet are both good examples.
  11. Being known -- Having someone who sees all of you, knows your history, and loves you anyway. (Or to quote "Mine": "You know my secrets and you figure out why I'm guarded / You say we'll never make my parents' mistakes.")
  12. Being thought about -- Having someone who loves you enough to think through why you act the way you do, as in the lyrics quoted above, or who figures out something that will make you happy without being told what it is. Gifts that demonstrate knowledge/thought of the other person are always incredibly romantic.
  13. Sacrifice -- This goes back to #2, where Darcy changes his nature for Elizabeth, though it's perhaps better exemplified by the end of "Titanic," where Jack dies so Rose can live (again invoking #9): He loves her enough to give up _________ for her, whether his snobbery or his life. The O. Henry story "The Gift of the Magi" is a story where #11 makes it romantic, and #12 bittersweet.
Your thoughts? What else would you add to the list as an element of a great romance? And can you think of any romances where the woman performs the sacrifice, change in nature, etc. for the man, and it ends happily for the both of them?

(Actually, I can: The Queen of Attolia. But he still loves her first.)