Confessions of a Children's Author

Monday, August 22, 2005

Boo for Borders!

First of all, let me say that I got a magical gift for my birthday... No, it's not a gift certificate for a new wand, it's an IPOD!!! It's a cute tiny little thing ("no bigger than a pack of gum," one website touted) that is currently loaded with over 5 hours of music (I haven't loaded it to its capacity yet) that serves the dual purpose of being music my main character would listen to and also helps drown out (most of) the ambient noise in the library. Especially helpful the last few times I've been there, since I've had to sit near the computers just outside the children's department where there has been a group of boys playing computer games together very noisily. I still don't get the noise at the library thing--I mean, the children's librarian at my hometown library, Mrs. Bortner, would never let anyone get away with speaking above a whisper. Even if there'd been computers in the library back then. Which there weren't. Which I know is very hard to imagine for anyone who may be reading this who was born before, say, 1985. (Don't get me started on that subject--my fiance has been teasing me lately about the frequency with which "when I was a kid..." has been popping up in my conversation lately. Am I already old enough to be saying that??)

Anyway, that was the positive news for today's entry. The non-positive news (I'd say that other word, but I'm making a concerted effort not to be negatative... oh, rats, I said it anyway!) was the very sad state of affairs I found in the children's department of a certain bookstore last night. I will admit, for the sake of full disclosure, that Barnes and Noble is the bookstore that is more near and dear to my heart since I was a kid. (I know how some other writers will look down their noses at me for saying that I actually like a chain bookstore, but I will also say for the record that Children's Book World in Los Angeles is one of my favorite bookstores ever and I prefer to buy children's books there, but there are times in life that I do find myself in the larger chains. If Children's Book World sold magazines about Hawaii and honeymoon destinations, I would have been shopping there last night, instead. But I digress...) This does not mean that I hold a pre-conceived bias against Borders, but I just wanted to set the record straight. Anyway, last night I found myself in the Borders in Westwood, where a friend dropped me off after dinner so I could hang out until my fiance could pick me up (long story, but suffice it to say that with gas prices at $3/gallon, I'm making my contribution to the carpooling effort). Once I had a couple of magazines on hand that would serve their purpose of helping me decide where exactly to go for the honeymoon (I've never been--any island suggestions, anyone?), I decided to wander over to the Young Adult department.

Easy, right? At Children's Book World, there's an entire room dedicated to anything of a higher reading level than a picture book. At my local Barnes and Noble, the Young Adult section lines the outer rim of the Children's department (maybe so the teens don't have to be embarrassed to actually enter the Children's department? Makes sense to me...). Where, you ask, was the Young Adult department at the Westwood Borders? Good question. It took me almost five minutes to find it. Was it next to the Children's department? No. Was it anywhere near Adult Fiction? No. It was up against a wall around a corner, in front of the Audio Books section, and the only way I found it was because I had turned around to walk out of that area, about to give up. It was almost as if they stuck the bookcase back there like an outcast teenager (okay, maybe I'm reading too much into that), either because they didn't want it to take up better real estate on the sales floor (sorry--a sign I worked in retail for too long), or because they wanted to give the teen readers of these books the privacy they deserved so they wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen reading them. (Somehow I don't think it was the latter, but I was trying to give Borders the benefit of the doubt.) Ah, but it gets worse.

The bookshelves were a mess. Now, I know I'm a bit particular, since I was previously in retail and my mother owned a store for many years, so I do find myself a bit more judgemental than the average person of how a sales floor looks (if you see some strange woman rearranging a messy greeting card fixture or picking up fallen clothes and putting them back on hangers, it's probably me). HOWEVER, this area was atrocious. Books were every which-way, not properly alphabetized (there was an acrylic shelf tag for Sarah Dessen, though most of her books were not actually above her name--and why was there only a shelf tag for that one author?? Sorry Sarah, I love your books! But I'm just saying...), and I found it puzzling that the books that were stocked on the top shelf (which was about a foot above my head, and I'm probably at least a foot taller than most kids who would want to read these books) were not also found down below, in a more accessible place. I found the whole area disheartening. Boo, Borders!!!

Ahhh (releasing a deep breath), now I feel better!!

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Failed Experiment...or, A Trip to the Library

I thought I had a great idea: often my apartment was simply too distracting to provide a haven for prolific writing outputs every day, so why not go to the library? It's quiet there, I can go sit in the Children's department and be inspired by sitting among the very things I am trying to produce myself, and if I get too antsy, I can always find something new on the shelf and simply read. Or so I thought...

First of all, I'd been planning to get there when they opened this morning, especially since I had plans this afternoon to go shopping with my maid-of-honor for her dress (word to the wise: do not--I repeat, not--try to plan a wedding when you are writing a book and have just returned from an SCBWI conference--your head will explode). Well, that didn't work (procrastination--'nuff said), so I arrived at the library an hour later than I'd wanted. Oh well--I immediately went to the Young Adult (or as the great David Levithan calls it, Teen) section to look for some titles that had been suggested by various speakers during the conference. In the lovely (but too-small) YA section of my library, there is a bank of computer monitors against the wall, and on this particular morning, there happened to be several adults there to take some kind of computer class. All fine and good, except that the teacher was not speaking in a "library voice", he was speaking as if he was projecting to an entire classroom. Ah, but it gets worse: he announces that they will begin shortly with the appointed topic of "websites". "Wait," one woman whined, "I thought we were doing email today!" From that point on began a long (and very whiny discussion) on what subject they'd actually be going over. I plucked a few books off the shelf (Guitar Girl by Sarra Manning, Monster by Walter Dean Myers and The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer) and didn't stick around to find out who won.

Then I planted myself at a table in the Children's department, got out my materials, and began to brainstorm--that is, until a guy at a nearby table hacked up some major phlegm (I hate that word in all ways except how it's spelled). I wrote some sentences, crossed some out, and then there began a parade of people approaching the nearby Reference desk asking questions in all levels of volumes. At one point I looked up to glare at a particularly loud person and saw that it was one of the Reference librarians! Shouldn't that be a job requirement? Not just your knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System, but also how loudly you speak and whether or not you can set a good example for other users of the library? I wrote some more, crossed some more out. Attemped to read Coraline by Neil Gaiman as a temporary break. When a homeless-looking man approached the Reference desk and was loudly asking the librarian how to check his email, I decided to pack it in for the day.

Back at home, my kitties welcomed me with open, paws, and I'm back to trying to figure out how to block out distractions in the apartment. Phone's easy, I can turn the ringer off. TV's easy, because it's in the other room. Kitchen's not as easy, because it calls my name every once in a while, just to remind me it's there. Aforementioned (I got in trouble for using that word in a seventh-grade science paper about hippos, because my teacher didn't think a 12-year old could possibly use that word--okay, so maybe my mother helped me a little) kitties think that when mommy's home, that must mean it's time to eat...or play...or eat...or to help her by jumping onto the desk and flopping down between her hands and the keyboard. They must think they're helping, but jaopieu098y90(&N*)^*69nklahkjyyyyyyyyyyyyy is not exactly classic children's literature. Sorry, kitties.

Anyway, at least I got some writing done today (Lisa Yee said reading or writing blogs counts as writing time!!! Thank you, Lisa!). Darling fiance said maybe he'll get me an MP3 player for my birthday so I can go back to the library with my own sounds, not the ones of others. We'll see!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Getting Started

So, here I am with a brand-new blog. I'd never really thought about doing one, but since I just got back from the SCBWI Conference (that's Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), I've been bursting with writing ideas. I'm surprised my head hasn't exploded yet. Or at least started to spin like Linda Blair's in "The Exorcist" (even the thought of that image creeps me out--I've seen that movie twice and have no desire to EVER see it again). The only trouble is, not every sentence I've composed in my head during the past week is necessarily appropriate for the books I'm writing, so I decided not to let the writing in my head go to waste by staying there. Therefore, who ever reads this gets to either delight or suffer through my words here. Lucky (or poor) them. I'll explain more about my children's book aspirations soon--right now, I just want to get this up so I can officially say I have a blog! :) (Boy, do I still have an inner-geek-teen or what?!)