Monday, August 30, 2010

The Path of the Boarding School

The boarding school book is an established genre in England. Despite the success of stand-alone U.S. novels like Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep and John Green's Looking for Alaska, there isn't really a strong tradition of books that follow a girl from her first day at boarding school until she graduates. From my perspective—and I'm not just saying this because I'm writing a series of books about a girl who goes to boarding school--that's a loss for readers and writers.

The way I see it, following a girl through her career at boarding school is an excellent opportunity for you to follow a character you like as she grows up. For the authors, it's a chance to do long-term plot and character development and planning. There is also the opportunity to create fun, short-term characters to move the plot forward and then fade into the background. Authors also often put in minor characters who don't play a big part in the series but get mentioned in a way that emphasizes the tight-knit community of a boarding school.

The plot of most boarding school books follow the progression of the path of the hero pretty closely. This is particularly apparent in the first book in a series, which is often about a new girl who is going to boarding school for the first time. The girl always has some challenges and struggles for a while. She usually descends into some kind of darkness--usually humiliation--and then emerges having conquered whatever her problem was in the first chapter.

Over the years, I've observed that there are a a number of common themes in boarding school books, regardless of when or where they are written. Often, the hero is falsely accused--and then exonerated--or the hero is misunderstood or ignored and then embraced when her peers realize their mistake. Add this to the normal emotional turmoil of being in high school and as an author, you've got a lot of material to work with.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Summer Book Giveaway - Where do you read?

I can read almost anywhere. On the couch, at the park, or on the subway. My bed is also a great place to read but being the parent of a nine-month-old, coaching a cycling team and working full time means that I usually fall asleep about five minutes after I lie down. So right now my favorite place to read is curled up on the armchair in my living room.

This week's giveaway is all about your favorite place to read. Where do you read and why do you like it? The winner will get a copy of Tonya Hurley's Ghostgirl.

Ghostgirl is about a girl named Charlotte Usher (note the Edgar Allen Poe reference) who chokes to death on a gummy bear one morning at school. The book is about how Charlotte adjusts to the afterlife and stays involved with what's going on in the land of the living. The book has a lot of nice touches that make it fun to read. The artwork makes it feel like a graphic novel and there are nifty chapter titles, sidebars and relevant quotes.

To enter, please post your favorite place to read in the comments section below by Friday, August 27. I'll post the winner on Monday, August 30.

Monday, August 16, 2010


By day I’m a financial journalist. I cover the commercial real estate market so I have read about the Barnes & Noble drama, not reported on it. Most of what I have read has been questionable, if not unlikely. This has resulted in a lot more stress to the publishing world than is necessary. So, with this week’s blog, I’m changing gears a bit. Hopefully this will help you understand better what’s going on.

For the past two years, things at B&N have been tough and the company’s stock price has gotten pretty low. The Riggio family owns about a third of the company’s stock. A billionaire named Ron Burkle owns 19%. Recently the Riggios and the board of the company announced that they were considering selling it or taking it private. Burkle tried to buy more of the stock but was blocked. He sued and the Riggios set up a poison pill. A poison pill is business speak for making it really, really financially unappealing for any investor to take over the company.

There are a few things that don't add up to me about this. The first is that Burkle is suggesting that Barnes & Noble is mismanaged. It seems fair to say they expanded too aggressively and could close some of their stores. But they've got 720. How did Barnes & Noble get so dominant without good leadership? I also find it a little silly that the mainstream media keeps comparing Barnes & Noble to Amazon. Sure Amazon sells more books than Barnes & Noble. But they sell other things, too, like garden hoses and flip-flops. I've never seen anything like that at Barnes & Noble. This makes the companies incomparable.

Some in the media have decided that this is death knell for all bookstores. I’m pretty sure it’s not. I think that bookstores are in a similar situation to the company that I work for. Our business used to be print only. Journalists tended to specialize in print, radio or television. Today journalists have to excel at all three. This evolution is hard and daunting. But we’ll adapt. So will Barnes & Noble. And in the meantime, we can all follow a story that seems like the bad part of a modern-day fairy tale...poison pills, hostile takeovers and messy lawsuits.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer Book Giveaway #3

If you're anything like me, you spent years of your life hiding the cover of the book that you were reading. Let's face it – for a long time, young adult books were seen as something for, well, young adults. But thanks to authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Ann Brashares, YA-loving women from all over the world are openly reading the excellent books that are available in the genre.

The contest for this month's book giveaway ties into this. I want to know if anyone has ever poked fun at your YA book reading. What did they say and, more importantly, what did you reply? The winner will get a copy of Alive and Well in Prague, New York by Daphne Grab.

I really enjoyed this book, not only because the narrator, Matisse Osgood, goes to a Quaker school like my narrator, Sarah Conrad. Matisse grows up in Manhattan and is upset, to say the least, when her family moves to Prague, N.Y., because of her father's illness. There's a lot of humor in it, some great characters and some excellent outfits worn by Matisse and her friends. At the end of the day, it's a sweet, smart book about how a young girl learns to cope with dramatic changes in her life and comes out a better person and I'm looking forward to sharing it with one of my readers!

Please post your response in the comments section below by Friday, August 13. I'll post the winner on Monday, August 15.