Friday, May 27, 2011

Katie Shea Defines Literary Fiction

Katie Shea works for the Caren Johnson Literary Agency in New York City. It was a tweet that led me to her blog interview with Chuck Sambuchino, editor of Guide to Literary Agents.

As Shea works to build her own client list, she is especially interested in literary fiction. I hadn't heard that term before. Sambuchino defined it as, "'important' works with beautiful writing and envelope-pushing or groundbreaking subjects." He asked Shea to elaborate, and I loved her description:

"Literary fiction involves serious and personal themes, while creating a beautifully written story. First off, I want something I can connect to. I am most interested in stories about family dynamics, motherhood, fatherhood, personal overcome, unexpected relationships, and self-discovery. I truly look for a story that has it all—love, hate, good, bad, tears, laughter, success, failure—showing me that the writer can connect with a vast audience on many levels.

"The tone of the book is also extremely interesting to me. The main character must always set the mood of the story. I like sadness and darkness, but I also like to see positivity and happiness somewhere in the plot. I want to feel the story in my veins."

Friends have suggested that instead of a memoir, I write a fiction book based on fact. It sounds to me that my book should be literary fiction. It's another step toward finishing the project.

Shea said four of her favorite literary fiction titles are:
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Which of these do you like?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sandra's Recommendations for Fourth Grade Readers

These are my daughter's recommended reads for kids in fourth grade. They were her favorites when she was that age. They're real life fiction, historical fiction and fantasy.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Blood on the River: James Town 1607 by Elisa Carbone

Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Harry Potter books 1 - 3 by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Midnight Rider by Joan Hiatt Harlow

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Warriors: The New Prophecy series by Erin Hunter

See also Sandra's Recommendations for Third Grade Readers.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sandra's Recommendations for Third Grade Readers

My fourteen-year-old is an enthusiastic reader. Recently while waiting for me to finish my shift at the public library, she was browsing the shelves and reminiscing about the books she’s read. So I asked her to make me a list of her favorites; books she’d recommend to readers in different grades. This is the first installment of that project.

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

Frindle by Andrew Clements

Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Beezus and Ramona
Ramona the Pest
Ramona the Brave
Ramona and Her Father
Ramona and Her Mother
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Ramona Forever
Ramona's World

The BFG by Roald Dahl

Warriors series by Erin Hunter
Into the Wild
Fire and Ice
Forest of Secrets
Rising Storm
A Dangerous Path

Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler
The Tail of Emily Windsnap
Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep
Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist
Emily Windsnap and the Sirens Secret

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Heritage Months

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, one of five federally mandated heritage months recognized by The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. According to the Smithsonian Education website, heritage months are held to "pay tribute to the generations who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success." 

The other four heritage months are Black History Month (February); Women's History Month (March); Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 - Oct. 15); and American Indian Heritage Month (November).

Related Posts:
A Pair of Red Clogs
Kids Titles for Asian Pacific Heritage Month
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
The Beckoning Cat

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day: The Same Bright Star

A few years ago, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore honored mothers on CBS Sunday Morning, sharing that he never gave much thought to Mother's Day -- beyond ordering flowers -- until he heard a mother singing a lullaby to her child. The lullaby turned out to be Baby Mine, written in 1878 by (I believe) Italian-born trumpet player Mike Mosiello. The song was recorded on the Van Dyke label (81878).

"Baby mine, don't you cry.
Baby mine, dry your eyes.
Rest your head close to my heart,
Never to part, baby of mine."

I am reminded of the song Somewhere Out There, written by James Horner, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. It was the theme of the 1987 movie An American Tail.

When I lost full time care of my three children through a divorce custody battle, my heart was shattered. At night when they weren't with me, I'd miss tucking them in and kissing them goodnight. This song played in my mind, and it became for me a lullaby and a prayer for my children across the divide of time and space.

"Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight,
Someone's thinking of me and loving me tonight.

Somewhere out there someone's saying a prayer,
That we'll find one another in that big somewhere out there.

And even though I know how very far apart we are, It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star.

And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby,
It helps to think we're sleeping underneath the same big sky.

Somewhere out there if love can see us through,
Then we'll be together somewhere out there,
Out where dreams come true."

Sartore's tribute to mothers included photographs and a recording of his wife Kathy singing Baby Mine to their son. Sartore said that he now understands that, "There is no greater bond than between a mother and her child." I thank Sartore for reminding the world of this truth. It is my Mother's Day gift.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Social Media and Deep Thinking

Earlier this week I received via email a link to Andrew McAfee’s Harvard Business Review blog post Tune Out, Turn Off: A Mantra Needed for Our Times?

The gist of the blog is that social media can be the enemy of deep thinking. True. But it can also be a conduit to deep thinking. Here’s my example.

A tweet offering a free issue of World Literature Today, a publication I’d never heard of, caught my attention. I requested a copy. The cover story of the issue I received (July/August 2010) is on Sherman Alexie, “named one of the New Yorker’s twenty top writers for the twenty-first century” (page 35).

I’d read Alexie’s young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but I had no idea that he is such a prolific and well-known writer – until I read the article.

Because of the article, I checked-out his collection of poems and short stories entitled War Dances. It won the 2010 PEN / Faulkner Award for Fiction. In addition to laughing out loud and otherwise enjoying the book, Alexie also inspired deep thinking.

“Back in college, when I was first learning how to edit film – how to construct a scene – my professor, Mr. Baron, said to me, ‘You don’t have to show people using a door to walk into a room. If people are already in the room, the audience will understand that they didn’t crawl through a window or drop from the ceiling or just materialize. The audience understands that a door has been used – the eyes and mind will make the connection – so you can just skip the door.’”

“’Skip the door’ is a good piece of advice – a maxim, if you will – that I’ve applied to my entire editorial career, if not my entire life. To state it in less poetic terms, one would say, ‘An editor must omit all unnecessary information’” (page 5, from the story Breaking and Entering.)

Now for some of you this may seem like elementary advice. But for me, it inspired deep thinking about writing in general and my writing specifically.

There is a risk with social media’s constant stream of information to skim the surface and jump to the next thing. As McAfee writes, “This is potent, addictive stuff, and as Nick points out it does not lend itself to deep thinking and sustained concentration.”

But if we use social media to provide ideas, and then take time to pursue the ideas -- even unplug to think -- then social media can be a conduit to deep thinking. It is for me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Can Libraries Keep Up?

Over the past three years, staff and material budgets for local libraries in the United States have been decimated by the government entities that fund them.  Yet a study by the American Library Association and the Gates Foundation found that over the past year, "Americans are making use of their libraries at steady or increasing rates" (The State of America's Libraries: A Report from the American Library Association). Can public libraries keep up with the demand for services and resources without the money to fund them?  I'm beginning to doubt it.

Internet stations in my local public library are installed with Microsoft Office 2003.  More and more customers are coming to the library with flash drives and documents more advanced than the library computers are able to handle.  There is no money for computer upgrades.  At what point will the library's  infrastructure become obsolete?

“Computer and Internet access at public libraries connect millions of Americans to economic, educational, and social opportunity each year, but libraries struggle to replace aging computer workstations and provide the high-speed Internet connections patrons need,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “As demand for these services rise, public and private investment to support public access technology at libraries is more critical than ever.” (From The State of America's Libraries.)

Where will this public and private investment come from?  We hear that the economy is improving, but as gas prices and rents are on the rise, salaries are not.  Neither are library budgets.  Even print materials are becoming outdated.  For example, the most recent edition of a book on blogging that I found in my library system was published in 2006.  I discovered that many of the links referenced in the book are now obsolete.  If public libraries aren't funded at a level that enables them to keep their resources current, will they ever be able to catch up? What do you think?