Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bits and Pieces (and not all about books)

It’s the end of January and I have to say it wasn’t too bad weather wise. We even managed to get in a few sunny days. I’ve jotted down a couple of my thoughts as I passed through this month. Some are about writing and others are just personal observations. I’ve also thrown in a recipe for quiche. I made four quiche for a friend’s birthday luncheon. They were easy and a big hit with the “girls.”

1. Book Awards (and you know which ones I mean)
The books that win (and even the ones that don’t) intimate me! They’re so well written and so much better than anything I can write. I don’t mean to belittle my work but boy I sure wish I had the talent of some of those authors.

2. Deadlines
Plain and simple, they suck! Here’s the way I describe a deadline: it’s like you’re under a quilted blanket and its ninety degrees outside. I’m sweating (literally and figuratively) that I won’t get my book done in time. I’m worried I’ll lose my contract and antagonize the editors who’ll never offer me another chance to publish a book with them. And here’s the rub. In the end they’re the one’s who are behind and they don’t even care that I'm late!

3. Updating Electronics
Getting back to my deadline. I have to finish three early chapter books by the end of April (yikes, it’s almost here!) I decided to take my beloved laptop with me on vacation. Well, it’s about six years old and weighs a ton. So while I tried to get through security with my carry-on luggage, coat, etc., I’m also juggling this dinosaur of a computer. So, do I buy a new computer that is thin, lightweight and modern? Hell no, I love my heavyweight and can’t bear the thought of having to get used to a new one!

4. Being Funny
There has to be lots of humor in an early chapter book to keep kids reading and laughing out loud. Here’s my question: how many fart jokes can I put into one chapter???

5. The Loss of Page
Not the kind of page in a book, but the dear, darling, wonderful cat that was my daughter’s pet. Page died of old age and the entire family was heart-broken. To console her children Debbie encouraged them to write a story or draw a picture about Page. She then added photos and put everything together in a bound book.  It helped with the grieving and will keep Page’s memory close to everyone’s hearts.

6. Quiche
Here’s the best quiche recipe ever:
1 9” unbaked pie crust
3 eggs
1 ½ cups half & half
A pinch of salt, pepper and ground nutmeg
4 oz. shredded cheese (I used white cheddar)
2 oz. Swiss cheese (or mozzarella)
Vegetables (your choice. I use mushrooms, broccoli, onions or asparagus)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the piecrust onto a pie plate (Pyrex works best) according to directions on the box. Layer shredded cheese on bottom of crust. Place veggies on top of cheese then beat eggs, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over all. Bake pie for 15 minutes than lower oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake 25 minutes or until crust is golden

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fantastic News: Liebster Blog

It's great news for those of us here at Route 19 Writers. On January 21, 2012, we were awarded the Liebster  Blog award by Dawn Malone. You can view the post at http://dawnmalone.blogspot.com 
Thank you, Dawn, for recognizing us. The virtual world can sometimes be lonely, so it's nice to know there are others like you who are out there taking in some of the things we have to say. We appreciate the tradition of the award and will continue to work hard to ensure our readers, both old and new, are not disappointed.
A little information about the Liebster Blog award can be found on http://farfromflawlesslife.blogspot.com/2011/12/liebster-award-what-are-we-talking.html
In no particular order, here are the five we are awarding.
When you get a chance take a look at these sites. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why Don't Women Illustrators Win Caldecott Awards?

By Carol Baicker-McKee
I added some links at the bottom on 1-27-2012 - also some captions.
See also two related posts:
Caldecott, CEOs and Confidence by Cynthia Light Brown
Women and the Caldecott, Part II: More Musings on the Gender Gap by Carol Baicker-McKee
The 2012 Caldecott Medal Winner. Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2011
I didn't set out to write this post. My plan was to do one of my paired picture book reviews featuring this year's winner of the Caldecott Medal for the best illustrated book with a past winner that complemented it. I thought I'd also write a few sentences about each of the Honor winners and suggest similar golden-oldies for them too. And I probably will still do that - they're all lovely books, as you can see throughout this post - but I'll do so at a later date.  Because something struck me this year about the winning illustrators.
2012 Caldecott Honor. Published by Little Brown
All four were men. Not a female in the bunch.

 And that got me curious about whether there was a pattern.

 There is.

2012 Caldecott Honor. Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2011
Call It the Glass Slipper Ceiling

What's undeniable is that women are much less likely to win this important award. I haven't done any sort of a formal statistical analysis, but a quick hunt through the data  shows a large gender difference in every decade since the award was initiated in 1938. Women have won less than a third of the Gold Medals (32.5%) and slightly over a third of the Honor awards (36.7%) given out over the award's 75 years. In no decade have women come close to winning as many awards as men. Beginning in 1958, men have swept the awards fourteen times; women have swept a year only once - way back in 1945.
2012 Caldecott Honor. Published by Hyperion 

What's especially odd (at least to me) is that things seem to have actually gotten worse for women over time: during the last 20 years, women have won the top prize only 25% of the time (5 of 20) and a similar rate of honors (27.3% - 17 outright plus one more as part of a husband-wife team out of 65 honor awards); in contrast, during the first 20 years of the award (1938-1957), women won the Medal outright 5 times plus 3 times as part of a husband-wife pair for 35% of the awards - and they won 50% of the Honors during that time!

What the heck?

A Little Background: The Caldecott and Why It Matters

To understand why anyone would care about this gender discrepancy, you need to know the importance of the award. The Caldecott is arguably the most coveted award in the U.S. for illustrators. Each January, the American Library Association awards the medal to honor "the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children" published during the previous year. In addition to the gold medal winner, the ALA also recognizes one to five Honor books, a total of 233 to date.  If you want to learn more about the award and past winners you can check out these resources:
  • Info about the award on the ALA site here 
  • List of all the past Medalists and Honor winners here
  • The Wikipedia  summary of the award
  • Images of most of the covers of past winners on the Small Fry Books website here.
Winning the Caldecott or even garnering an Honor benefits an illustrator's career in multiple and lasting ways. Not only do these awards immediately and tremendously boost trade sales of the winning title, they virtually guarantee that every school and public library will acquire a copy - often multiple ones - and they also raise the profile of an illustrator's earlier and subsequent work. In addition, Caldecott titles tend to remain in print almost indefinitely - particularly meaningful in an age when most children's books go out of print in a year or two. Winning illustrators can also expect to receive dozens or even hundreds of speaking invitations - and substantial speaking fees. Perhaps most importantly to many illustrators, though, the award often raises their stature in ways that confer both more opportunities for future work and greater freedom to create what they want.

 Why Don't Women Illustrators Win their Share of this Award?
I don't know! So what follows are some hypotheses, some mine, some I've come across in google land. Please feel free to chime in if you have ideas (or better yet, facts).
Hypothesis One: The percentage of female winners could just reflect their distribution in the pool of children's book illustrators.
Analysis: This seems unlikely to me - but I can't disprove it because I can't find any reliable statistics on the gender breakdown of illustrators. I've tried hard to find some kind of data on the SCBWI site and other lists of illustrators, but without luck. If anyone out there has any stats or a good idea about how to track them down, let me know.
In my google searches, I did come across this interesting blog post from last spring by the poet and artist Nikki Grimes, in which she mentions a prominent illustrator who alleges that women only get 20 percent of illustration assignments.
Certainly the Caldecott is hardly alone in finding eminence more often in the work of male illustrators. For example, this year's list by the New York Times of the Top Ten Illustrated Books includes just two books by women. The gorgeous compilation Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art that showcases illustrators invited to exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts features a paltry five female illustrators.
BUT, if you've hung around the children's publishing world at all, you'll probably have noticed it's, well, estrogen-dominated. Attend any children's lit-related event and you'll quickly realize that authors, editors, art directors, children's librarians, and even the random book fan are mostly female. (Restroom lines are a particularly easy way to capture this at a glance. At the first mid-Winter SCBWI conference I attended, women doing the pee dance in an interminable line went rogue and stormed and occupied the nearly empty men's room during the lunch break - because otherwise a good many of us would have either missed the afternoon sessions or peed our pants.) Although it's true that the illustrators' events I've attended have usually had a bigger proportion of guys than the children's writers' events I've been to, women have still greatly outnumbered men - so if more guys are pursuing children's illustration, they're skipping conferences and other author/illustrator events.
At any rate, if I'm right that female illustrators (or at least wannabes) actually outnumber males, then the discrepancy is even more discouraging.
Hypothesis Two: Men are better illustrators.
Analysis: Geez, I hope this isn't true. Plus I really just doubt it. Aside from the fact that I can spout the names of dozens of fantastic women illustrators off the top of my head, including plenty whose works are enduring favorites, I've really never read or heard anything about a significant gender difference in artistic ability. (Though the Nikki Grimes post had comments from an artist with a hypothesis about the kinds of artistic skills men might excel in.) For another thing, being an outstanding illustrator for kids seems to me to require skills, like understanding child development, that would give an edge to women, since they are still socialized to be more in tune with young children than men are.
What's more, there are some illustrator awards with a more equitable gender split. For example, the Greenaway Medal that's the UK equivalent of the Caldecott has gone roughly equally to men and women (though women have a slight edge, especially in recent years). See the list here.
Hypothesis Three: Publishing Is Biased in Favor of Male Illustrators
Analysis: The idea is that for various reasons publishers either save plum assignments for men or devote more resources (like publicity budgets) to them and these acts position men to be more likely to win major awards. Again, I find this hard to believe as the primary explanation, though I guess it might come into play sometimes. (The Nikki Grimes post discusses a possible "sexual heat" theory that's kind of fun to contemplate; makes kids' publishing sound a lot more lascivious and conniving than what I've witnessed!)
Hypothesis Four: Award Committees Are Biased in Favor of Male Illustrators
Analysis: The idea is that committees of course know the gender of the illustrator and either prefer the masculine artistic sensibility in general or just like guys better. I've served several years on a children's book award committee (Best Books for Babies - read about the award here), and well, I  feel skeptical that this could be the main culprit. Our committees have just seem focused on the quality of the art (and text) and its suitability for our intended audience - gender doesn't ever come into the discussion, aside from lamenting how few books for babies depict men in caregiving roles. Moreover, awards committees are constantly changing over, so the bias would have to infect generation after generation of individuals. Certainly not impossible - it wouldn't have to be obvious or even conscious - but to me it doesn't seem likely to be the sole or primary reason.
Hypothesis Five: The Nature of the Illustrating Task Favors Men
Analysis: The idea is that there is something about the task of illustrating a Caldecott winner that makes it more likely to be achieved by men. Having illustrated several books, I can see some ways this might come into play; although this year's winner isn't a good example, Caldecott winners often feature labor-intensive, time-consuming styles of artwork. Typically in picture book publishing, the text comes first and is submitted in more or less finished form (which means the author can take as much time as he or she chooses to get it perfect) - but the illustrator often has to work to a tight deadline. Illustrating a book can thus consume one's life - making it a tough fit for someone with primary family responsibilities. And perhaps female illustrators  are more likely to be in that position, thus limiting the kind of work they can produce or abreviating their careers. I don't know; just wondering.
Hypothesis Six/Seven: Some or All of the Above? Something Else?
Actually, given the size and persistence of the discrepancy, it seems likely to me that more than one factor comes into play. I'm confident I haven't covered all possible bases - and I wonder about my own biases in evaluating different possibilities.
So what do you think? And what if anything can/should be done to correct the imbalance?
In Closing: A Few More Interesting Controversies, My Choices for this Year's Caldecott, and Some Great Illustration by Women
  • There's lots of concern about racial inequalities - both among illustrators and subject matter.
  • Is there a "New York" bias? This year's winners all hail from the NYC area...
  • Author-illustrators are FAR more likely to win than illustrators illustrating someone else's text (42 of 75 medal winners - and of the remaining, 7 were illustrated by a family member of the author's, suggesting collaboration of some sort was likely. Interesting given most publishers' preferences for selecting the illustrator and for keeping authors and illustrators completely separate)
  • Should popularity  with kids (or at least potential wide appeal) be a consideration in choosing winners? (It isn't.)
Here were my top two choices for this year's Caldecott, neither of which won anything. One by a man, one by a woman:

This one did win a Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor.
Candlewick Press, 2011

Illustrated by Marla Frazee; written by Mary Lyn Ray. Beach Ray books, 2011
And here are some more beautifully illustrated books by American women; two books that won the Caldecott, two that did not but to my mind could have.
Illustrated by Mary Azarian; won the Caldecott in 1999

Love, love, love all of Virginia Lee Burton's books
Written and Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton, won the Caldecott in 1943

Molly Bang is versatile and gifted in so many styles.
Written and illustrated by Molly Bang who has won Caldecott Honors three times - but not for this book, which I love

Hard to believe that Rosemary Wells hasn't won a Caldecott.
Written and Illustrated by Rosemary Wells, a prolific, gifted, beloved author-illustrator who has received many awards and honors, but oddly, never the Caldecott

ADDED 1-27-2012: Links to check out on this subject:
What a surprise! Turns out my observation was neither unique nor new. Here are a few other sources to check for further thought:
A couple of posts on Elizabeth Bluemle's excellent ShelfTalker blog (for Publisher's Weekly)
"Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz by Gender" (from 2011)
"The Awards by Publisher" (from 2012)

Threads on two discussion boards (must be a member):
Verla Kay's Blue Boards Check for threads on the Illustrators boards
Child_Lit The thread is "Awards and Gender"

Two subsequent posts on our blog:
Caldecott, CEOs and Confidence by Cynthia Light Brown
Women and the Caldecott, Part II: More Musings on the Gender Gap by Carol Baicker-McKee

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lincoln Peirce Visits Pittsburgh

by Marcy Collier

My 9-year-old son loves to read. His latest obsession is with the Big Nate books by author/cartoonist Lincoln Peirce. My son will not leave the house without one of these books in hand. Peirce (pronounced “purse”) appeared as a speaker in the Black, White and Read All Over series yesterday at the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library Lecture hall.

Peirce says he’s been doodling since the third grade. As a child, he was inspired by the works of Charles Shultz. As a kid, Peirce constantly read comic strips, comic books and regular books. He studied the comics and copied them. With practice he got better. As an adult, he says his drawing is still improving. Pierce shared some of his earliest sketches with the audience from his elementary school years.

He told the crowd that to be a good cartoonist, you must practice both your writing and your handwriting. You have to be able to tell a good story to your readers. When he works on a book, the words always come before the pictures.

Peirce began his career as a cartoonist over 20 years ago. His first comic that was published was called “Neighborhood Comix.” His Big Nate character was developed from this series. His syndicated comic strip appears in over 200 newspapers.

The fourth book in the series, “Big Nate Goes for Broke” will be released in March of this year. Peirce has already done the cover art and title of book five, “Big Nate Flips Out.”

As Peirce talked with the audience and took questions from the kids, he doodled sketches on the Elmo. It was cool to see his passion pour through while he sketched and to also watch the excitement on my son’s face and the other kids around us as they listened to Peirce’s stories.

I want to thank Lincoln Peirce for visiting Pittsburgh and for the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures (Black, White and Read All Over series) for bringing such great authors to my hometown. For more information go to: http://www.pittsburghlectures.org/section.php?pageID=109

And for more information on the Big Nate books, please visit Lincoln Peirce’s website at: http://www.bignatebooks.com/about-the-author

Friday, January 20, 2012

Resolutions. Goals. Quotas. Are they needed?


Dave Amaditz

With the new year recently upon us I got to wondering about resolutions and goals and quotas.

Personally, I'm not one to make a New Year's resolution. It's my belief that if I feel so strong a resolve to do something, then I should be doing it. Like right now. Immediately. No need to wait for a new year.
Setting goals, or establishing quotas for my writing is one of those things. And so I don't get depressed or feel like a failure if I don't meet my goals, like so many feel when they make a New Year's resolution and don't live up to the task, I set my goals almost unattainably high.
You might say that's crazy, that setting so lofty a goal will automatically lead to failure and depression. But to me, it's a matter of perspective...
Let me show you what I mean.
My goal is to write for four or more hours a day, every day, and to complete at least one polished chapter, somewhere between seven to twelve pages a week. With everything else going on in my life I'm seldom able to consistently meet those goals. This does not mean I do not write daily and produce polished material. In fact, since the middle of December, Christmas holidays and all, I've written six semi-polished chapters of the novel I'm rewriting.
I'm happy with what I've accomplished, even though I have not quite met my goals. This contentment comes about because when I established my goals I made sure to plant a seed in the back of my mind telling me my goal was more than likely unattainable. Doing this allows me to gracefully accept defeat when I do not reach the quotas I've established.
On the other hand, when I'm able to meet or exceed my established goals and quotas, I get a sense of accomplishment unlike any I’ve felt when I've established lesser goals or no goals at all.
Crazy? Maybe so. But the system seems to work for me.
If your system isn't working. Try something else. Change your perspective... Until you find what works for you.
One final note. I believe that if we do not push ourselves, or are not pushed by others to reach beyond what we think we can accomplish, the end result is simple.
We will achieve less than what we are capable of achieving.
I'm not ready to settle for that. Are you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Better Brain for 2012

My writers group is truly a gift in my life. When I joined, an agent handled my work. I came to our meetings and participated in the critiquing. When the discussion turned to submissions--which editors had moved where, what the different houses were looking for, whether or not they accept un-agented manuscripts--I sat back, blissfully reorganizing comments around my manuscript or looking up an author someone had mentioned. I didn't need to worry about editor issues. They were my agent's proficiency. That was his arena, his problem, even though a niggling little voice told me I'd lost touch with a big, important part of the field. Sort of the way you feel when you hand your tax documents over to your accountant thinking you'd forgotten something, but telling yourself that if it really mattered she would ask for it. That's her job, to know what your tax return needs. Right?
I knew it was coming. Life had gotten more complicated and left me precious little room to write. I took up valuable space in my agent's hard drive, I suppose, because I certainly didn't bug him in any way. In fact, I avoided contacting him since our conversations always ended with his asking, "How's that next novel coming?". It wasn't. So in 2011 my agent cut me loose. Without him, I suddenly needed to know which editors have moved where, what they're looking for, and whether or not they accept un-agented manuscripts. And that's not all. While I lolligagged in Agentville, a whole new set of requirements developed involving the other fact of life I had avoided: technological savvy.
Like Dave Amaditz wrote in his blog Weather Woes=Less Motivation??, I've looked at these things for the past year as hills in my way. So, for 2012, I've turned them around, transformed them into learning opportunities. (I'm reading Daniel Amen's Making a Good Brain Great. One of his suggestions for doing so is to learn new things. It doesn't count to keep doing the things you're already decent at). Therefore, in the interest of my brain, holding onto my lovely writer's group, and getting this novel published, I'm relearning the marketplace. I've also signed up for Apple's One-to-One learning sessions. Book trailers are coming up on our group's agenda. I'll have my notebook and my Macbook ready. Bring it on.

submitted by Fran McDowell

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Readers

     For the past several years I have been in search of my very first grade school primer.  Fun with John and Jean was the Catholic school version of Dick and Jane.  My St. Joan of Arc reader starred John, Jean and Judy, Puff, Spot and a whole slew of other characters including neighbors, grandparents,  and even the priest and nuns from John and Judy's church and school.  Last month I finally found one and haven't been able to put it down since.  What a wonderful life where children played outside without the benefit of iPads, iTouches or any other iEquipment! Father always wore a suit and tie, little Judy once left the house with Spot and walked all the way to school by herself without being abducted, and the family ate together at one table every evening without a television tuned to a sporting event.  Such a happy and innocent time!  I am well aware that Go the F**k to Sleep and Goodnight iPad are both still on the bestseller list, but I'll pass.  Though I will be the first to admit that the content now seems dry and repetitive, at least the New Cathedral Basic Readers thankfully skipped the vampire story lines.

    Fast forward to the 2011-2012 school year. The Pleasant Valley Elementary School in Peters Township uses a Reading Street text published by Pearson Scott Foresman.  I got a call late last year from a third grade teacher there alerting me that a poem of mine was included in the poetry section of their text.  (By way of explanation, oftentimes those of us who write poetry anthologies are lucky enough to be able to sell the rights to individual poems to educational textbook publishers.  However, even though we are paid in advance for those rights, we have no idea what poems will be used or what textbook they will be used in or when they will be published.)   Now, amazingly, a little snippet from one book of my zany poems is being read by a new generation of emergent readers.  The poem is about a wacky invention that can help children find lost shoes.  I am sure Judy could have used it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Weather Woes = Less Motivation???


Dave Amaditz 
All right. It's wintertime in western Pennsylvania. Normally, it's a recipe for depression. Gray skies, rain, and cold are what we wake up to most of the time. But this winter has been a bit different. We've had plenty of sunshine, above average temperatures and virtually no snow.
So why have so many people I've spoken to told me they feel achy, tired and unmotivated to do anything?
I remind them of something we used to say when I was involved in sports, particularly as a runner getting ready to tackle one of the large hills on a particular course.
"The hills are in your head," we used to say.
What does that mean? And how does that apply to writing?
Obviously, the hills didn't just disappear because we said they weren't there. Your mind is a very strong tool, however. If you can overcome the mental blocks you establish whenever an obstacle is put in front of you things in life become much easier.
Take elite athletes for example. Most of them are graced with pretty much the same amount of talent. It's their work ethic and willingness to overcome the mental obstacles that puts them, and keeps them at the top.
So how can you as a writer overcome the blues and lack of motivation? Imagine that the hills or whatever obstacle is in front of you, are only in your head. Think of yourself as an elite athlete. Train harder and work harder than your competition. This will be your reward...
I recently spoke with a writer friend. She told me two things... After years of bad news on the publication front and nearly giving up writing she has landed an agent and a book deal.
How's that for overcoming the blues?

Monday, January 9, 2012

High School is Hellish (YA fantasies by Sarra Cannon, Lori Devoti, Alyssa Rose Ivy, P.T. Michelle, and Michelle Rowen)

SC Poe's Indie E-book Sampler, #7

As if bullies, gossips, cliques, senseless rules, and the swill they serve in the cafeteria aren't enough. These YAs push the usual high school angst up a notch by injecting supernatural elements.

Reign Fall (Demon Princess #3)

By Michelle Rowen
Self-published January 1, 2012

Poe thinks this is YA high-school-hallway romance/fantasy.

First sentences: My name is Nikki Donovan, your normal, everyday sixteen-year-old. At least, I was normal until a month ago when I found out the truth.

Poe is tempted to call this book "fantasy lite." The sample, if not the whole book, confines the action to the school and bedroom of the MC. Said MC, by the way, is half Demon, and a Princess in the Demon realm. Her best friend is a Demon Hunter; her current crush is a Shadow; and the guy she knows she's fated to marry is a Fae Prince. This is, and isn't, your normal high school.
As for "action," most of it (at least in the sample) relates to Nikki's girlfriend and boyfriend issues. Again, these issues have an everygirl feel, except for their supernatural twists. (Can a Demon and a Demon Hunter still be BFFs? Will Demon Dad object if Nikki dates a Shadow? And why hasn't said Shadow called lately?) The only glimpse of a greater peril comes with a dark, winged figure; he, certainly, will demand more from Nikki than her company at the prom.

NOTE: Walker books published the two earlier Demon Princess titles (Reign or Shine and Reign Check).

Rated If you like contemporary chick-fant, then you should probably sample the whole series.

Brightest Kind of Darkness (Book 1)

By P.T. Michelle
Self-published August, 2011

Poe thinks this is YA contemporary romance/fantasy
First sentence: For me, being surprised was like wearing my best friend’s favorite shirt; cherished for its borrowed uniqueness.

The intriguing hook here is that every night, MC Inara dreams the entirety of her next day. This saves her some worry, but it means she goes through every painful experience, from bad hair days to getting snubbed by a boy, twice. It also makes her a star soccer goalie, because she always knows where the next shot will come from.
But when the book opens, Inara has just dreamt that someone's hiding a bomb in her high school. Shocked awake, dream unfinished, she embarks on a day that will be full of surprises.
Now, it's technically difficult to maintain plot tension if the MC always knows what will happen next. Indeed, Inara stops dreaming altogether soon after the story begins. So the hook's a bit of a cheat. But by the time we learn this, we've been swept up in the characters and plot (or not), as with any other story.

Rated If you're immediately attracted to the mysterious new kid in any fictional high school, especially if he has hollow cheeks and dark circles under his eyes, then this sample may sweep you up.

Demon High

By Lori Devoti
Self-published in 2011

Poe thinks this is YA contemporary fantasy

First sentences: The envelope had arrived open. I wouldn’t have read the page inside otherwise, wouldn’t have thought to, honestly.

Lucinda and Nana are about to lose their home, and Nana's been hiding the problem from Lucinda. Absent Mom was addicted to demons, and got spirited away by one of them. Nana was always the reliable one. But the page inside that open envelope is an eviction notice.

In short order, we are led to a box where Lucinda keeps Mom's secret demon-summoning spellbook; a boarded up door in the cellar; a tiny statue that drinks blood. And behind that cellar door, a gateway to Hell.

On page 10, we're off to school, where the tone lightens while the stakes remain high. In order to save her house (and possibly her soul), Lucinda must find a way to engage the interest and cooperation of cool-rich-popular Brittany.

This book has lots to offer. A great voice. Humor. Muscular prose. Lack of chatter. Complex characters. Mysteries and lies. And, of course, demons.

Rated S for Snapped Up.

Beautiful Demons
ville High Demons #1)

By Sarra Can
Self-published by Dead River Books, 2010

First sentence: Six foster homes in one year had to be some kind of record.

Poe thinks this is YA contemporary fantasy.

Poe likes the MC, Harper Madison. She wants to be good. But wherever she goes, lamps fly. Windows break. Fires start. And, the story hints, a death has occurred. Harper insists that none of it's her fault. But we know it is.

Now she's being sent to the Shadowford Plantation group home. If Harper fails there, her next stop will be juvenile detention. So she wants to do well. But Shadowford Plantation feels. . .evil.

The story moves fast. (It's actually about 45,000 words, a longer novella rather than a novel.) Characters and places are cinematically drawn, in a neat blend of Princess fantasy (Shadowford's accommodations are luxe, and described to the last gilded ruffle) and gothic genres.

Oddly, the sample ends without a "forward," right in the middle of a tour of the mansion. But the sample does everything else right.

Rated Q for Queued to finish later.

Beckoning Light
(The Afterglow Trilogy)

By Alyssa Rose Ivy
Self-published, 2011

Poe thinks this is YA contemporary romance/fantasy

First sentence: We were flying over Canada when the panic set in.

This time, it's the MC herself who's the new kid in school. Shy Charlotte and basketball star brother Kevin have come back to live in the ancestral Southern mansion where their mother died three years ago. The author sometimes shifts to Kevin's POV, so readers can learn that Kevin and Uncle Monty are keeping some important secret from Charlotte.

This popular ebook has a ruminative, girl-writing-in-diary voice that reminded Poe of Twilight (the long middle chapters, before the chase kicked in). Not Poe's own favorite kind of writing. But if you've read this far in a post about YA high school fantasies, then Poe urges you to browse and judge this sample for yourself. Volunteer reviewers who enjoy contemporary fantasy give it 4 and 5 stars.

Poe acknowledges that in the first book of a series like this, the mystery often develops slowly. Here, we take time to get acquainted with the new school, a new boy who seems inexplicably familiar, and an old family friend who might now become something more. We know there's a secret, and Charlotte has a mysterious dream on page 11. At last, on page 50, we learn about the Forbidden Gate in the garden. And on that alluring note, the sample ends.

Rated If you love to get lost in long contemporary fantasy romances, then you may want to follow Charlotte through that Forbidden Gate.

Poe's Rating System:

  • S for snapped up (Poe has already purchased the full)
  • Q for queued (the book is on Poe's to-be-read-someday list)
  • U for underwhelming (Poe will always explain the reason)
  • I for If/then (not Poe's cuppa, but perhaps it's yours)
  • R for rejected (Poe will always explain the reason)
  • E for editorially challenged (Poe will not mince words)

Caveat Emptor Internexi: Poe's samples are intended to provide a springboard for further browsing. Genre and age classifications are Poe's guesses based on short samples, and may or may not accord with the classifications suggested by authors, publishers, or anybody else. The buyer is always responsible for deciding whether the book as a whole is appropriate for the intended reader's age, interests, and reading level.

Poe's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of other members of this blog.

If you'd like SC Poe to sample your ebook on this blog, please follow submission guidelines.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Spring Writer's Retreat - Bethany, West Virginia


Dave Amaditz

Each year, Western Pennsylvania's Society of Children’s  Book Writers and Illustrators, (WPA SCBWI), puts on events for children's writers (SCBWI members have priority). One of my favorites is the spring writing retreat which is held in Bethany, West Virginia. It's a chance to meet fellow children's writers, develop new friendships or renew old, get up to date on industry news and make professional contacts. This year, the retreat will be held April 27 through the 29th. Scholastic editors Grace Kendall and Mallory Kass will join us for a working weekend of critique circles and fellowship.  
More information will soon be posted on the following website. http://www.wpascbwi.com/

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Calling All Judges!!!

As I was working on rewrites this evening, I took a quick break and came across a contest for charity on John Green's Nerdfighters' site. They are holding a contest for short stories between 1,000 - 3,500 words and are currently looking for judges. Here's the video link:

It's for a great cause. Who else would like to help?