Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New Trend in YA Lit?

Recent studies by Scholastic Inc. have shown that readership among children drops off at the age of nine to eleven. With their new book, "Cathy's Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233," Sean Stewart and Jordan Weissman are trying to recapture this market. Intertwining reading with technology, the book makes the reader a detective, looking for clues within the text of the book and in outside sources. Aimed at young adults, readers help the heroine of the story, Cathy, find out why her boyfriend broke up with her. Kids can look for clues by checking out Web sites and calling phone numbers to listen to voicemails left by Cathy. The Web sites and phone messages give the kids access to secret codes, diary entries, photographs, and letters.

Personally, I think that this is a great way to get kids involved in reading. As a child, I could read for hours, but not ever kid is like that. Some kids struggle with reading due to learning disabilities. Some kids have trouble paying attention to the words on the page. This style of book could help keep kids involved in the story―involved enough that they want to read to the end. Most kids I know love to play the part of detective. Although kids will be getting clues from other sources, the clues always direct them back to the book, where they have to read to find out what happens next.

Some controversy has occurred with this project, though. Running House, an imprint of The Perseus Books Groups, made a deal with a major corporation to replace various products in the book with real products produced by the company. Frankly, it's sad to think about the amount of kid-focused marketing in the world today. Everywhere you turn there are ads for a new toy, a new cosmetic product, a new teen magazine, or a new video game. While numerous books contain name brand household products, at times I wish that this did not occur in books for kids.

What are your thoughts on all of this? How do you think this new style of book will change Young Adult literature? What do you think of blatant marketing strategies directed at kids? Post your comments and let us know what you think.

If you would like to read more about this book, there is a great article at Book Business Magazine, titled "Reality Check," by Matt Steinmetz.
Click here to read the article.

You can also check out the book at

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Portland Publishing Networking Party

Don't forget about WiPP's Networking Party this Wednesday! It will be held from 6 t0 9 p.m. at MacTarnahan's Brewing Company on NW 31st in Portland. Admission is $10 if you have not pre-registered. Come join the festivites to meet some incredible people, eat snacks, win door prizes, and toast Portland's growing publishing community!

Click on the above invitation to enlarge it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Banned Books Week

September 23-30 is Banned Books Week.

It's amazing how much Americans fight to defend the First Amendment and then let books be banned, oftentimes for ridiculous reasons such as love scenes or thoughts on civil rights. Book banning doesn't necessarily happen in the extreme fashion many people imagine of public displays of fire pits with books thrown in. It often happens by parents contesting books that are taught in the classroom. Schools can't technically take the books out of the school, but they can hide them in the library and forbid teachers to use them in lesson plans. Bookstores have refused to stock books, too. Individual people have stolen books that they saw unfit for public availability from libraries. And, ultimately, publishers have refused to publish the books they think could cause waves. What book banners don't realize, though, is that it is often these books that start necessary discussions about the state of society.

I encourage you to support authors who have the courage to challenge societal constructs through their writing skills. Below is a list of my favorite books that have been banned at one time or another. To see more, visit the
Powell's Books Web site and American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, by Jon Stewart
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
Ricochet River, by Robin Cody
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Winterkill, by Craig Lesley

Little-known fact

"Romantic" languages are actually Romanic--from Rome, with Latin roots.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Congratulations to Kristin Thiel, this year's winner of the Elisabeth A. McPherson Award for Women Writers. As the winner, Kristin will be treated to a month in a remote cabin to work on her writing. Kristin's ultimate goal is to assemble her short stories and seek publication of an anthology.

Well done!

To see samples of Kristin's work, visit her Web site at

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Question: Editing Yourself

Steve asked: Can good writers edit their own work?

Sorry to say, Steve, no. That's often how good writers get viewed as bad writers--they write a business memo or self-published book, don't have anyone else edit or even proofread it, and it gets sent out to thousands of people filled with typos and missing words.

On the small scale, it's impossible to edit your own work simply because you see what you meant. This happens in e-mails all the time. "Let me know weather or not you can make it." Would you have seen that mistake if you had written it? Not necessarily.

On a larger scale, editors help authors develop their arguments and plots. What if J. K. Rowling forgot to mention who Lord Voldemort was? She knows who he is, so it's a possible oversight, but a detrimental one that would leave millions of readers wondering what was going on. Authors can overdevelop, underdevelop, or simply develop the wrong parts. An editor is your readers' advocate to watch for these parts that could lead readers astray or even make them put the book down.

I'm not just saying this to create job security. For proof, just check out a few Craig's List postings, self-published books (specifically those who did not hire an editor), and even FOX Broadcasting Company. Yes, even corporations make grammatical mistakes sometimes. FOX's new TV series 'Til Death should be spelled Till Death.

Here's to editors who prevent public faux pas!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bookseller Chick

Ever wonder what's going through the mind of your local bookseller when customers present nearly impossible riddles to find a random book with a red cover by an unknown title and author, but it was mentioned briefly in an obscure magazine two months previously? And yet, booksellers come back to work every day to stock the shelves with our prized possessions and make those front of store tables beautiful.

Check out Bookseller Chick's blog.

As a former bookseller, I can sympathize with some of Bookseller Chick's daily battles and tiny triumphs. I remember Christmas seasons filled with last-minute shoppers who were angry that a bestseller was sold out on Christmas Eve and others who came in with nothing more than the knowledge that their neices liked to read and who left happily with a copy of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

On the publishing end of the spectrum, we love booksellers because they get our product out there. But they give us grief when they return books that didn't sell as well as hoped in the first 90 days. They are simultaneously publishers' and authors' best friends and worst enemies.

But it's all part of the wonderful world we call the Book Biz.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sound alikes

Homonyms, words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings, have always amazed me. We had a contest in my fifth-grade classroom to write down as many homonyms as we could think of, and I won by a long shot. Since then, I've kept my eye out for more, and for other homonym lovers.

I just came across this article by Alan Cooper about his fascination with homonyms. He even has an ongoing list of them! Needless to say, it's bookmarked on my browser. Take a look at Alan's article, then click on the link at the bottom to check out his list. See any missing? E-mail him to add them!

Alan Cooper's Homonyms

When I was in the second grade, my teacher introduced me to "homonyms," those words, like "caret" and "carrot" that are pronounced the same, but are spelled differently, and that have different meanings. The concept intrigued me, and for months, I maintained a dog-eared pad of yellow paper with an ever-growing list of homonyms. I eventually lost that yellow pad, but never my interest in these odd, quirky English words.

I consider homonyms to be the prime numbers of the English language. Like primes, they cannot be predicted by any rules of grammar or diction. In the way that you can't search the number line for primes, you cannot systematically search the dictionary for homonyms. You just have to find them, like Easter Eggs in the dictionary.

The best part about homonyms, though, is that they are the raw material for puns, a truly sublime form of humor. With a robust knowledge of and appreciation for homonyms, you will never be embarrassed when a pun-battle breaks out in public.

A few years ago, when my oldest son, Scott, was in the second grade, he came home with the assignment of compiling a list of homonyms! I was in heaven, reliving a joyous, quasi-literary moment from my childhood. Scott and I, along with family and friends, worked for days putting together as complete a list as we could of homonyms. Scott has moved on, but I still maintain the list with a fervor many others find silly. But I take a small but intense pleasure at finding these little hidden gems.

Because their nature is so odd, it is quite possible to miss the most obvious ones. Just last week I added "fair" and "fare" to the list. If you can find any that are missing, please email them to me at and I will add them to the list (and mention your name here).

The List

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Little-Known Fact

ISBN is both singular and plural for International Standard Book Number. ISBNs is not a word.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Musings on 9/11

As the five year anniversary of 9/11 passes, I'm sure it's passed through all our minds at least once today. While my experience of the time was certainly not extraordinary or unique, I took a few moments to write some thoughts.

Less than two months after 9/11, I left for Panama to visit my family who was working there at the time. Paranoia was still thick in the air. After grueling lines and searches at the airports, I finally made it—but this trip and its timing would prove to be more insightful than a short vacation.

We walked from the apartment in Panama City to the nearest grocery store. As we rounded the corner, two men guarded the doors of the market with machine guns. Terrified, I jumped back around the corner, only to face bewildered expressions from my parents. Machine guns were everywhere here; they were just a fact of life.

The next day, we drove to El Valle, an indigent village in the mountains. The greenery was gorgeous as we hiked to a little-known landmark of ancient history—a boulder with hieroglyphics far from the city or any tourist attraction. A small girl looked at me with big eyes and asked me where I came from. I told her, and she shyly asked where the United States was, if it was in El Valle, if she could see it from her house.

It dawned on me that her entire world was in this valley. Her young mind had never fathomed cities, culture shock, hatred, discrimination, destruction, or terrorism. Yet, only a few hundred miles away, people lived among Uzzis in the city and in fear of being kidnapped by Colombians in the rain forest. In America, millions feared further terrorist attacks would rob us of life and liberty. In the Middle East, thousand-year wars raged on. In Spain, Basque activists planted car bombs to assert their quest for independence. In Africa, entire cultures were becoming extinct from disease, hunger, and rebel forces. My stomach churned with it all.

I longed to be this little girl in El Valle and to live in the simple world she inhabited. Three days later, I returned to Willamette and America’s fresh wounds.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A "Killer" Weekend

Are you a mystery writer looking for the perfect details for your latest crime scene? Want to get inside the criminal mindset to create a more realistic villain?

Oregon Writers Colony is hosting the "Killer Weekend: A Mystery Writer's Resource Fair" this month. The conference will provide authors with access to various experts of criminology including detectives, medical examiners, and a criminal psychiatrist. Take advantage of this great opportunity to add depth and detail to your latest manuscript.

Menucha Conference Center (in the Columbia Gorge)
September 14 thru September 16

Find more details at:

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Copyright Controversy

Google has been continuing its journey into the book world with its library scanning project. While this was controversial two years ago when the project first started, Google has now added the option to print books that are in the library archives. Granted, these books are classics in public domain as far as copyright is concerned, but some fear this new availability will cut into publishers' sales. On the other hand, publishers don't have to pay for access to these public domain texts, so why should anybody else? Read the Publishers Weekly article here.

On another note, Becky Zinkgraff of Mine Press in Portland, Oregon, uses her artistic skills to push the boundaries of copyright. "I decided to start a project that kind of 'hovered' around copyright," Zinkgraff said of the origins of Mine Press. "It was to remind myself that the law was originally meant to protect against plagiarism and not to stop me from taking in the world around me and offering it up in my own form. I wanted to prove to myself that I can make art without plagiarism that references and uses the world around me." Read the WiPP interview

Monday, September 04, 2006

Literary Arts offers New Series of Seminars

Looking for lively, in-depth conversations about books? Check out the Delve: Readers' Seminars offered by Literary Arts. Whether you want a new take on an old classic or you're looking to discover a new favorite, the seminars offer "the opportunity to explore great books with an experienced guide and the company of other dedicated readers."

Each seminar is limited to 20-25 participants. You must be willing to complete the designated reading in advance and come prepared to discuss the text in an informal, friendly atmosphere.

You can find more details at:

Fall Classes at The Attic

Need to find new inspiration? Want to branch out into a new genre of writing? Looking for a new challenge to help refine your literary voice?

Check out the new fall schedule at The Attic. The workshop schedule includes: "Walking & Writing in the City," a narrative writing workshop with Rebecca Koffman, and "The Language of Your Life," a memoir workshop with Ariel Gore. Other great workshops in poetry, screenwriting, journalism, and fiction writing are scheduled.

The workshops can fill up fast, so register early. Classes begin the week of September 15th.

For more information go to: