O. Henry Middle School

What a fun visit Greg and I had this morning at O. Henry Middle School.

It was such a delight to walk into the library, all spooky for Halloween, and see such titles on display as Shattering Glass and Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters by Gail Giles as well as The Afterlife by Gary Soto.

The sparkling librarian also mentioned that the Circe Du Freak series by Darren Shan was hugely popular–so much so that she was surfing amazon.co.uk to get new titles in more quickly.

Greg and I talked to an enthusiastic group about Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo as well as Rain Is Not My Indian Name. Then we lead the group in a pre-writing exercise to create a character work sheet (let’s hear it for Greg the orphaned frog who can’t sing but can fly and wants to find true love!). The students wrote letters to themselves from Greg the frog and volunteers read theirs aloud–thoughtful and hilarious! We were most impressed.

Quote of the day: “All the really hot frogs live in Pflugerville!”

Two Timely Titles

Some buzz….

My Teacher for President by Kay Winters, illustrated by Denise Brunkus (Dutton, 2004) just went into its third printing and is a winner this election year.

I was asked today by an Austin Public Librarian to speak, and (at three invites a day) was already booked. But along the way, I learned that Austinite Phil Yates’ Ten Little Mummies, illustrated by G. Brian Karas is going into paperback reprint–no small event with a picture book–and Scholastic is planning to sell it with gauze so kids can wrap themselves up in it. Spooky, eh?

Bonjour

Some interest today in a possible French language edition of Rain Is Not My Indian Name (Harper, 2001). I forwarded them onto my agent. We’ll see what happens.

Rejuvination

Had a first-rate time at the Austin SCBWI conference this weekend at the Pecan Street Cafe (only whine: very lukewarm lunch).

Learned that Candlewick is every bit as magical as I’d imagined it was (as was editor Sarah Ketchersid, who recited Greg‘s favorite speech from Shakespeare), that Charlesbridge is growing in exciting new directions (transitional and middle grade fiction under editor Judy O’Malley), and that Roaring Brook–love, love, love the house; needs a Web site–has thrown its hat into the graphic novels trend by going for literary quality under Mark Seigel (illustrator of Sea Dogs by Lisa Wheeler and Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant). Also mucho impressed with the speech by oh-so-charming Rosemary Stimola, which among other things, made me curious about sub agents.

Best news of the day: Chris Barton sold a first book to Charlesbridge! Yahoo!

Carried on with Stephanie to Musashino’s, then to the Driskill where we ran into the whole Austin Film Fest, including Page who joined us afterward at Katz’s.

Key Question: when on earth did fish-net stockings come back in?

I’m so out of touch. Sigh.

National Book Award Finalists Announced

The newly announced National Book Award finalists are:

Deb Caletti for Honey, Baby, Sweetheart

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Pete Hautman for Godless

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Laban Carrick Hill for Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance

(Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown & Company)

Shelia P. Moses for The Legend of Buddy Bush

(Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Children’s

Publishing Division)

Julie Anne Peters for Luna: A Novel

(Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown & Company)

Congratulations to my husband‘s publisher (Little Brown) for their double coup as well as S&S for their triple, and all the authors, especially Julie Anne Peters whose work I’ve admired for some time.

Here is an interview from my site with Julie Anne Peters from earlier this year.

LUNA by Julie Anne Peters (Little Brown, 2004). It seems like forever that Regan has been keeping the secret that her brother Liam is really Luna, is really a girl instead. After years of struggle, Luna’s ready to start taking steps–small then tremendous–to make her inside reality an outside reality. But will Regan lose herself in trying to be the best confidante, the best sibling she can? A breakthrough book about two siblings, one transgendered and one sacrificing much of herself out of love. Read also Her Humor Hits Home: An Interview With Julie Anne Peters by Peggy Tibbetts from Writing-World.com (focusing on Julie’s middle grade fiction).

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I had a visitation. In February 2001 I’d just completed two novels without a break: KEEPING YOU A SECRET (a YA lesbian love story) and BETWEEN MOM AND JO (which may forever remain a secret if we keep pushing back the pub date). I was catching up on sleep. I’m a terrible insomniac anyway, and most of my head work for a book is done in bed, lying awake, working through nuances in character and plot, dialogue, language, transitions. This particular morning, I remember so vividly, a strong presence woke me. She was a girl, sixteen or so, with shoulder-length blonde hair and bangs. Characters don’t usually come to me so visually distinct and fully formed. She said, “Write about me.”

I said, “No. Go away. Come back later.”

She did, the next night. “Write about me.”

“No,” I said. “But who are you?”

She replied, “I’m Luna.”

I remember thinking, That would make a great title for a YA novel. But I wasn’t ready to start a new book. I fended Luna off, for weeks and weeks. Finally, I just got so irritated with her waking me up at three A.M., I sniped, “What? Write what? What’s your story?”

She smiled, demurely, and said, “I’m transsexual.”

Whoa.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

After my initial resistance (and I was resistant to writing this book; I didn’t feel I could tell Luna’s story authentically), I began to research transsexualism. I knew zip, zero, zilch about being transgender or gender-variant. I should’ve known, but gender identity and sexual orientation are two different animals. Beyond case studies and psychology texts there’s a dearth of mainstream fiction dealing with the subject. After six months my knowledge of their lives only scratched the surface, and to write a novel I need to know my characters intimately, to get under their skin. I called the Gender Identity Center of Colorado and cried, “Help!”

I asked if they could hook me up with a person who’d be willing to talk to me about growing up transgender. They invited me to a support group meeting.

To demonstrate the extent of my ignorance, I thought I’d be walking into a roomful of Ru Pauls. I’d be the most underdressed girl there. Stupid. They were just a group of ordinary people, in different stages of transition, gathering together to share their trials and triumphs.

I explained that I was working on this novel and asked if anyone was willing to sit down and share their story with me. Were they willing? They were desperate. Desperate for people to know and understand them. Almost every person in that room volunteered to help. Somehow word got out that I was doing this book and my e-mail box began to fill with letters from transgender people who wanted to participate in the project.

The book was two years in the writing and revising. My agent, Wendy Schmalz, and my editor at Little, Brown, Megan Tingley, are both enlightened, progressive, and intrepid people and industry professionals. They embraced the book with enthusiasm.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

About halfway through the novel, I abandoned the project altogether. I felt that fictionalizing the lives of these people was trivializing their struggle. The next day – it’s so weird to think back on this – an article appeared in the Rocky Mountain News about the brutal murder of a gay teen in Cortez, Colorado, Fred Martinez, Jr. As I was reading the testimonials from his friends, I realized Fred wasn’t gay. He was transgender. His life, his journey of self-discovery, had been denied him by an ignorant and violent society. I felt it was a sign that I should finish Luna; that it could serve as a way to educate people. I knew if the book ever came to publication, I’d dedicate it to Fred.

There were, in fact, literary challenges to pulling this thing off. The major one was my stubborn bias in favor of authentic voices in LGBTQI literature. I’m not trans. I never will be. My authenticity bias couldn’t be compromised. To be authentic and honest, the narrator, the main character, would need to act in the role of observer. I decided to create a sister for Luna, Regan. Regan would be Luna’s confidante throughout life and in that way she could see, and relate to the reader, the childhood manifestations of being born transgender.

Of course Regan would need her own story. What could she possibly want or need that could equal the ferocity of Luna’s survival instinct to transition to another sex? When I figured out the answer, it seemed obvious. Young readers will no doubt get there faster than I did.

The challenge of exploring Luna’s childhood with flashbacks was a new writing experience for me. I’m always battling my own biases. I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks in novels, since they tend to pull readers out of the central storyline. Too often flashbacks are a lazy way for the writer to fill in backstory. But in the writing process, as I was recreating Luna’s past, my subconscious writer kicked in and switched the narrative from past to present tense. Yikes. I didn’t know if that had ever been done before. Young adult literature is all about experimentation and risk-taking. There are no rules, no limitations, no literary expectations to overcome. I liked the immediacy of reliving Luna and Regan’s childhood in the present. It gave the reader (and writer) a feeling of being there.

It was also a challenge to strike a balance between educating and entertaining readers. To honor Fred, and every person struggling with gender identity issues, it was imperative for me that the story transcend the whole “difference and diversity” theme. I believe Regan and Luna speak to the power of love between siblings.

Novels and Journals

Overall, it’s been a much better year for picture books than novels, but I just got a healthy stack of mucho promising picks:

11,000 Years Lost by San Antonio author Peni R. Griffin (Amulet, 2004);

Unexpected Development by first-time author Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004);

Death By Eggplant by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe (Roaring Brook, 2004);

Busted by Betty Hicks (Roaring Brook, 2004).

Yes, the RB books are in, including some picture books I’ll tell you about soon.

More personally, it’s been a great day. I got my stitches out, wrote two scenes, went to lunch at Suzi’s China Grill & Sushi Bar (Hunan shrimp) with my honey, picked up comics at Dragon’s Lair, and bought a couple of journals at BookPeople. Tonight I’m planning to watch “Smallville” and/or the presidential debate.

Tips for journal shoppers: make sure you get spiral bindings so you can lay the book flat and actually write in it; make sure the pages are lined (unless you’re also an artist); don’t get anything so pretty that you’re too intimidated to use it.