Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year’s Socks

My New Year’s resolution is to learn how to knit a pair of socks. Knitting has been hard to fit into my schedule between work, writing, our baby and the holidays. But we need the room it will free up. A few years ago I loaded up on yarn at Wal-Mart and haven’t used enough of it yet. And, as any good disciple of Louisa May Alcott knows, unused yarn is almost like waste and that waste is as bad as a lack of industriousness. So on January 1, I’m going to cast on 60 stitches on my needles and knit until I have a pair of socks. I’m thinking green with red racing stripes on the cuff.

There are times when I wonder if I make resolutions like this because of
Little Women
or if this was something that I would have done if I had never read the book. But I’ve always liked making things, starting with doll clothes and graduating to knitting, crocheting and quilting. And, according to the media, this actually makes me kind of hip because do-it-yourself gifts like hand-knitted socks and sweaters are really cool now.

Knitting these socks is probably going to be pretty hard for me. Although I can knit, it doesn’t come naturally for me. When a pattern isn’t clear, it’s not easy for me to figure out what I’m supposed to do. There will probably be some unraveling, a little swearing and at least two times when I throw a half-knitted sock across the room. Still,
I have this fantasy that in a year, I’ll have an entire drawer filled with home-made socks in every single color and style. I’ll post a picture of my first pair of socks when they’re done!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Guilt Valley High

It’s been probably fifteen years since I read my last Sweet Valley High book but I’m anticipating a return to the series. Sweet Valley Confidential is coming out in March and, according to its blurb on Amazon, it’s about the grown-up challenges that Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield—the series’ heroines—face. It’s a grown-up book about the Wakefield sisters! My first thought was that I needed to read it. My second thought was that this was the kind of book that would be perfect for an e-reader. No one would have to know my guilty pleasure.

Normally, I’m not shy about my love for young adult literature. I’ve proudly read the
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books on the subway. But Sweet Valley High books are different. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Sweet Valley High. The concept of such different twin sisters is always appealing and there was always the excitement of walking into the bookstore and finding a new book. I also really liked that the characters had very well-developed back stories that stayed consistent throughout the series and loved the drawings on the front covers. They were detailed enough that the characters’ faces were clear in your head.

Despite this, there is a stigma against series books of this kind that I can’t help absorbing. Similar to the Nancy Drew books, the
Sweet Valley High books were written by a series of ghost writers. As a writer, this makes me take them a little less seriously because my sense is that a series of ghostwriters wouldn’t logically have the same ownership in and love for the story that an actual creator would. That makes them a little more disposable (despite my box of the first seventy or so that I can’t part with) than a series of books like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Am I being silly? Probably. Should I just buy my copy of Sweet Valley Confidential and flaunt it for everyone to see? Definitely. Will I read it without stopping once I get my copy? Absolutely.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Giveaway #11 - Illustrated Books

My friend Kieron Black was in New York over the weekend. Kieron and I are at roughly the same point in our writing processes and we agreed to critique each other's first 50 pages.

We started out talking about trends in the young adult and middle grade reader books, particularly about the number of books with illustrations that are out there like Scott Westerfield's Levithan series. Kieron, who is also an illustrator, is writing an action and adventure story about a young boy named Prawn who gets swept up in the middle of a war between sea creatures. Kieron is using his illustrations to give the reader a clearer picture of the sea creatures and their world.

This made me wonder: what's your favorite example of a young adult or middle-grade book with illustrations? Tell me in the comments are below and you'll have a chance to win an advanced reading copy of Lovesick, the third book in the Ghostgirl series by Tonya Hurley. The series is a kind of neo-gothic, Edgar Allen Poe-influenced series about a girl named Charlotte Usher and it has beautiful illustrations.

Post your response in the comments section below and I'll select a winner in one week.

Monday, December 6, 2010

It’s Beginning To Read A Lot Like Christmas

Every Christmas, I re-read my favorite young adult books that have holiday themes. My three must-reads for the holiday season are End of Term by Antonia Forest, Jo of the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

The first two books were published in England in 1959 and 1926, respectively, and are difficult to buy. Part of what I like about these books is that they are from a different time and tell a story of a holiday tradition that was very different than my own. In Jo of the Chalet School, there are two beautiful chapters on Jo’s Christmas in Innsbruck in 1926. It’s mostly mundane stuff, with long descriptions of shopping for presents and what clothes the characters were wearing. It’s like seeing an old friend every time I re-read it.

End of Term is more complex. The premise of the story is that a school is putting on its annual Christmas play. The language and writing are beautiful and there is a real discussion within the book about religion, the Christmas story and how it is told. One of my favorite parts comes at the end when Patrick, a friend of Nicola, the main character, watches her perform a solo in the church where the play is being staged.

“Difficult, Patrick thought, to think of that as Nicola singing—this immaculate succession of notes, lifting and drifting among the soaring pillars and arches as he had seen thistledown lift and drift on evening the watermeadows, floating away at last above the trees...He did not know why (there was nothing in the words to warrant it) but, as the verse ended, it seemed to him, the hairs crisping on his scalp, that she had been singing of the ultimate solitude of God.”

What I like about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is much simpler. As a child, it made me sad when Tumnus, the faun, tells Lucy about the White Witch’s hold over Narnia and its eternal winter. “Why, it is that she has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter and never Christmas; think of that!” It’s something that’s so easy for a child to relate to – and it also explains, very simply, one of the many reasons why the White Witch is so evil.

What are your favorite holiday re-reads? Let me now and you can win a copy of City of Masks by Mary Hoffman. Post your entry in the comments section below and don’t forget to give me a way to contact you. I’ll post the winner next week.