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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is That How You Spell Myers-Briggs?

Yesterday I spoke at the Southdale Public Library to a group of parents, kids, and teen library volunteers. I talked about my mysteries and scary stories, including Curtains! and The Book That Dripped Blood. We had a great discussion about monsters, poisons, and Agatha Christie – your basic library discussion when eager young readers are involved, right? Then, a mother of two young boys asked me, “Do you have to be a good speller to write books?” Hmm. I answered that no, you don’t. But -- and this is a big but -- anything you submit to a publisher should be as polished and professional looking as possible.

Weirdly enough, a few days earlier I had been working in my office at home and came across the results of an old Myers-Briggs test that I had taken. Remember, those? They helped you identify the way you processed information or related to those around you? I was labeled as an INFP: introverted, intuitive, feelings-centered, and flexible. In the M-B universe, there are 16 basic personality types. The INFPers, however, are the only ones pegged to make great editors. And that group consists of a mere 1% of the population. In other words, it’s not easy to find a good editor. The publishing industry has known that for years.

Good editors are not simply good spellers. They are good readers and listeners. They are sensitive to the way a character speaks, and how a scene is described. Like a skilled stand-up comedian, they have great timing. They know when and how events should occur on the page. I work with a terrific team of editors at Stone Arch. We have discussions on phrasing, pacing, shifts of tense, if a joke bombs on the page, when to introduce a villain in a story. Yeah, I know, it sounds geeky, but it’s lots of fun. For those of us in that 1% of the population, this is the stuff we dream about at night. We might not have nightmares about poisons or books that drip blood, but we can wake up in a sweat wondering if we used an adverb correctly. Or accurately. Or precisely.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Poetry Friday: that stretch of no time

My family and I are leaving for vacation, so this is my last day in the office for a week and a half. In honor of our trip, this week's Poetry Friday poem is a beautiful glimpse by Rita Dove of the no-man's-land an airport is as you wait for takeoff. (I just hope the "baby's exhausted mother" doesn't turn out to be me.)


I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. ...

Read the rest of the poem here.

This week's Poetry Friday is hosted at Crossover (which, parenthetically, I--as a 28-year-old rabid fan of MG/YA literature--urge you to peruse further).

See you in a while--

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Kid Who Saved Superman on NBC-NY

People are really responding to Hakeem's refreshing feel-good story. Here's another clip from NBC New York.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rooster, Owl, and a Little Chicken

Beth is right about how being scared is a matter of perspective, age, and experience. While I was perusing picture books at Wild Rumpus, I was followed by a very curious, and persistent, bantam rooster. I remember being terrified as a child by these creatures when I visited my Great-Uncle Maynard’s farm in southern Minnesota. Of course, now that I have grown taller since then, roosters (or chickens) no longer frighten me, although they still creep me out.

I sat down in an overstuffed chair at the shop, with my arms full of books. The rooster followed. It stood a few feet away and stared at me. Clucking. It could probably smell my fear. (Can poultry smell?) In any case, I tried to distract myself by picking up a paperback reader from a nearby spinner rack. It was Arnold Lobel’s Owl at Home. It was written over 30 years ago, but it was still compelling. Lobel’s stories are simple, appropriate, intriguing, and never condescending. They even have touches of true poetic beauty. I thought of the new Stone Arch Book reader sets we had completed this season, and the impact they will have on our youngest readers. Hopefully, the stories we tell will stay with a child long after they’ve grown and moved on to chapter books and graphic novels. After they’ve outgrown their fears, too. Like beady-eyed roosters.

What's scary?

Michael touched on scariness with his post last week, and I was thinking about it again yesterday while a bunch of us were at Wild Rumpus (a great Minneapolis children's bookstore). They have a special spooky cottage toward the back of the store, where all of the scary books are kept--I spotted the Twilight books, There's a Monster at the End of This Book, and The Graveyard Book, among many others. If you look down while you're standing in the spooky cottage, you can see the store rats through a special clear floorboard. It's a really cool place--perfect for raising some goosebumps while you look for that great scary book.

While my colleagues and I were perusing the shelves, I noticed a little girl standing with us--I think she was probably about four. She seemed perfectly comfortable with the books themselves, but when she looked up and realized that she was surrounded by grown-ups--none of whom were her mother--she started to cry. I helped her find her mom and little brother, and she seemed to be relatively untraumatized, but it got me thinking--for a little kid, so many different things can be scary, and not all of them are the ones we grown-ups expect them to be. Some things--like scary books--aren't scary at all; they're exciting. But looking up and seeing a bunch of strange grown-ups (all of whom, I might add, are on the bookish-nerdy-quiet end of the spectrum)? Nightmare.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Poetry Friday: Hot Summer Nights

Oh, for the days I was complaining it wasn't warm enough for summer! It certainly is now. And it'll only get worse!

Today's Poetry Friday poem, written by Mary Hamrick, perfectly captures the steamy feeling of summer nights.

Hot Summer Nights

It haunts me so
those summer nights
in dim lit homes

where music flows
and tempers flare
and lullabies fill the air. ...

Read the rest of the poem here.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week at Carol's Corner.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Scare Me! . . . just a little

I visited a library in Southeast Minneapolis yesterday, and read from some of my books to a mixed crowd of mostly 1st through 3rd graders. Before I picked up the book titled “Cave of the Bookworms” from the Library of Doom series, I asked if anyone in the audience liked scary stories. Everyone raised a hand. So I started reading the creepy story that begins and ends with a young boy dreaming about monsters. The little kids’ eyes grew wide. Their jaws dropped. They stared at the illustrations I held out to them. They responded so enthusiastically that I read another book from the series at the end of the presentation. After the kids had left, an adult came up and said how amazed he was that “the little girls liked the story as much as the little boys.” Everyone likes to be scared, I said. Especially if you’re in a safe environment such as a library or a classroom -- or, like one first-grader yesterday, on your grandmother’s lap.

Meet the kid who saved Superman

Check out this article in the New York Daily News about our book The Kid Who Saved Superman.

And read more about the contest and the book here.

The Graduation Party

Last weekend, I went to my hometown to visit my parents. My dad is a retired high school math teacher who still coaches tennis at the local high school. Saturday afternoon, we came inside the house after enjoying some sun by the pool and there was a message on the answering machine. It was from one of the graduating teenage boys on the tennis team. The message went somewhat like this, “I’m calling from my graduation party and I really hope you can make it. I told my mom to send you an invitation and I hope she found your address – if she didn’t I’m sorry, but I’m really hoping you can come. Mr. Nelson (the other coach) is here and a bunch of the guys from the team. We’d really love to see you.” And the message went on with an address, etc. My dad never received an invitation, but immediately took a shower and got into his car to attend the party. Personally, I was really impressed that an 18 year old boy would care enough to call his tennis coach to make sure he attended his graduation party. That’s the thing about teenagers, just when you think they don’t care, they throw you a curve ball. Even though it may be challenging, continue to be coaches and mentors – it really does make a difference.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Real readers review

I forgot to mention last week that we'd found this. A bunch of our books were read and reviewed by sixth graders. (The other reviews are accessible on the same blog.) So cool--I absolutely love seeing what kids think about our books. We take feedback from kids really seriously, even when it's negative. After all, our books are for THEM, not for librarians or teachers. (Though I'd like to think the books are enjoyed by the adults who read them, too!) I'd love to hear more feedback from kids--if you know of any, please pass it along.

more soon!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Spring Weeding

Even on a day off, there’s no getting away from books. Yesterday I volunteered at one of Minneapolis’s inner-city schools. A teacher I know there needed help moving into a new classroom – just across the hall from his old classroom. He taught 4th grade this past year, and next year he’ll be teaching 3rd graders, so he asked me to help him weed his book collection, pulling out anything that might not be appropriate for his younger readers. Weeding is such an intense, personal chore. You’re confronted with dozens of difficult choices with each book you pick up. And just because I love a particular book – for example, he had a copy of Rumer Godden’s exquisite The Mousewife – doesn’t mean 3rd graders will share my enthusiasm. Now I know what librarians have to go through. My friend had bought most of those books himself over the years. Many of the books were tattered, had ripped covers, or had handwriting scrawled on them. They had been touched and opened and read by hundreds of little hands. These were books that had become part of children’s lives, at least during those hours they spent in my friend’s classroom. These books meant something to all of us – to the students, to my generous friend, and finally to me, who had to choose what to keep and what to discard. The Mousewife is now sitting on a shelf in my bedroom.

Poetry Friday: a robin is ruffling its feathers

The school year is over--or almost over--at most schools. We're in the midst of graduation-party season, and I'm suddenly starting to see a lot more kids out and about when I venture out for lunch during the week. I'm so jealous of those kids! One of the hardest things about being a grownup, to me, is the lack of summer vacation. Even though I haven't had a real summer vacation in years, I still feel that excitement as spring turns to summer. (Maybe I always will.)

Here's a poem by Mary Ruefle that really captures, to me, what those last restless days of school feel like.

The Hand

The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, ...

Read the rest of the poem here.

This week's Poetry Friday is hosted at Critique de Mr. Chompchomp.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leaning tower of books

Here's what I found on my desk this morning.

You probably can't tell from the not-great-quality pic, but that's all 12 new Jake Maddox books for Fall 2009. Four copies each, to be checked to make sure all is in order before they're released. Oooh, exciting!!! While checking over these finished copies isn't my favorite job in the world (it takes a while!), it is so thrilling to see the fruits of many months of labor.

Plus, that new book smell? Intoxicating.

more soon--

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nose in a book

I'm about to leave for the day, and this cute story was just forwarded to me--

"Last night we were shopping at Costco and watched this little boy, probably 9 or 10, exit the store while reading a Stone Arch Book. From the glance we caught, we think it was a Jake Maddox title. It was so great...nose in the book and glued to the page. He was just following his mom's feet."

I love it! What a great way to end the day.

more soon!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

About the boy crisis

Are you all on the Ypulse.com mailing list? I love getting the daily collection of links and articles about kids/tweens/teens. One of the links today, though, really hit home, both on a professional and personal level. (Professional because I work on books for boys, and personal because I have a little boy.) Here's the link.

I know I'm not the first concerned person to ask what we can do about this "boy crisis" (and note that girls aren't safe either, with higher rates of depression and eating disorders, but the article seems to say that boys are worse off these days). How can we get kids to value education and reading and caring about themselves and others? I wish I could think of some big program that would fix things. Instead, I guess we all have to do what we can.

What I can do on a professional level is put my passion into helping to create books that boys will love--and making sure the messages inside the books are about teamwork, citizenship, caring, intelligence. We do that every day here at Stone Arch. We put a ton of heart and soul into each of our books, and I hope that when boys (and girls!) read them, they feel cared-for--because we do care about our readers. On a personal level, my husband and I can read to our son, give him lots of hugs, and model good behavior. We can make it clear that our values and priorities are in being caring to others and to ourselves. We can show him how much we love reading and writing. We can make him our first priority, even when he's not an infant anymore. We can make sure he knows he's worth it. Will that be enough? Maybe. I hope so. Will my professional work on books be enough? Certainly not. Everyone needs to do the same, in whatever way they can. I hope we can stop this crisis before it gets worse.

more soon--

Monday, June 8, 2009

Secrets of book publishing

I found something cool on my chair when I came in this morning--a big full-sheet proof from the press check that our art director, Bob, went on yesterday. I thought I'd show you what that looks like. (Excuse the not-great-quality cellphone photos, please!)

As you can tell, the sheet is printed with multiple book pages--all in all, the full sheet contains 32 pages, printed on the front and back (page 1 is on the flip side of page 2, and so forth).

After the sheet is printed, it's cut and arranged in the proper order and then bound with the other sections of the book. Obviously, my favorite stage is the finished book stage--but seeing these secret steps is one of the fun perks of being a book editor. This proof is from a new series I'm REALLY excited about--can't wait to show you more when we get the final books!

More soon!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Poetry Friday: If I stepped out of my body I would break / into blossom.

Poetry Friday explanation.

The weather in Minnesota of late (though I complained about it not being summery enough a few days ago) has been utterly perfect. Warm and sunny, and while I know my friends with allergies would not agree, there is something really gorgeous about all the pollen and bits of fluff floating in the air. In the afternoon, driving home, I often think of this poem by James Wright.

A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.

Read the full poem here.

Poetry Friday is hosted at Read Write Believe today.

More soon!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Camp Can't

Oh, I love it when one of my books is mentioned in one of the big magazines. This article at SLJ features books about summer camp, including our very own Claudia Cristina Cortez in Camp Can't.

I never went to camp as a girl. (I did--nerd alert!--go to gifted and talented day camp, which I'm guessing is not at all like sleepaway camp...) But I always loved reading about other kids' camp experiences. Camp seemed like this cool place where anything could happen. My husband, however, was not a fan of his sleepaway camp, so it will be interesting to see whether we send our little boy. Luckily, we have a few years to think about it.

The photo shoot for the Camp Can't cover was fun. The designer really had get creative to come up with a concept that would show the reader that Claudia was at camp and having kind of a hard time. Since the Claudia covers each use one photograph, it was difficult to figure out a photo that would communicate that simply. I love what the designer came up with--to me, it shows that Claudia's roughing it, and her hiking shoes prove that she's working hard. We also struggled with the title, but I love the end result--in this book, Claudia struggles with a lot of difficulties, like bullies, annoying little kids, problems with her friends, and trying hard to pass the swimming test. For a while, it really does seem like she "can't" get it right.

Did you go to camp? Love it, hate it? Should I send my kid, if he wants to go?

More soon!

Monday, June 1, 2009

It's Summer!

The beginning of June has always felt like the official start of summer to me. I know it doesn't really start till June 21, but June is the first summer month. Lots of schools are out and Summer Hours have begun here at Capstone Publishers.

Of course, since we're in Minnesota, the weather doesn't always cooperate...this doesn't look like summer to me!

Unlike the halcyon days of elementary school, things don't get a whole lot more relaxed around here in the summer. The other editors and designers and I are still finishing up the dribs and drabs of our Fall 2009 season--checking final proofs and approving final copies. (I want to talk about finished copies sometime soon--there is nothing as thrilling!) And I'm deep into work on our Spring 2010 season, editing manuscripts, writing cover copy, and working with design on cover and illustration ideas. Plus, manuscripts are starting to come in for Fall 2010 and I am even working with an author right now on a book that will be published in Spring 2011. We always joke that in publishing you can't keep track of what year it is.

As an administrative note, we're trying something new for a little while here at the SAB blog. I'll be joined by some of my colleagues in the design and marketing departments, as well as fellow editorial staff members. We'll be writing more specifically about what's going on in our days and what we're being inspired by. Today, my inspiration is the weather--it may feel like fall outside, but it's really spring--and I better get back to work on my Spring 2010 books...

more soon!