Monday, March 31, 2008

Good News

The Warrior Heir has been named to the 2009 Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Awards Master list by the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA). This is a list of finalists who will be voted on by high schoolers in Illinois.

According to the ISLMA Website: “The Abraham Lincoln Award is awarded annually to the author of the book voted as most outstanding by participating students in grades nine through twelve in Illinois. The award is named for Abraham Lincoln, one of Illinois' most famous residents and himself an avid reader and noted author. The award is sponsored by the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA).The Abraham Lincoln Award is designed to encourage high school students to read for personal satisfaction and become familiar with authors of young adult and adult books.”

For more information, visit

The Wizard Heir has been named to the 2008 New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age.

The release date of The Dragon Heir is being moved up from September 9 to late August. Stay tuned for the exact date.

In this photo, find Beth Dunacan’s students at Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts in Vista, CA. with advance reading copes of The Dragon Heir. Ms. Duncan’s students review books for Barnes & Noble’s in California.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Love Note

This is a love note. Or maybe it’s a fan letter. I’ve said it before, but it needs saying again.

Librarians are my heroes. Have been since I was 9 years old and my father was transferred and I had to go to a new elementary school, and the public library was two doors down from my school and I’d hang out there because I didn’t have any friends except books and the book lovers in the library.

These days, I’m hanging out with librarians once again—at library visits, school visits, and meetings like ALA and TLA (soon!) I feel so in context there—me and thousands of other lovers of the written word.

This is for the librarians who defend freedom of ideas and expression, even when it makes their lives difficult. Who don’t think decisions about access should be made at an administrative level. Who trust their patrons enough to set them free in the marketplace of ideas. Who don’t see danger between the covers of a book.

This is for the librarians who don’t have to bring authors in—but do it anyway. Even though it takes considerable time that they don’t have. Even though it means finagling and conniving and horse trading to find funding and get approvals and make it happen.

This is for the librarian who exchanged countless emails with me, arranged funding, presented book talks and book clubs and arranged for volunteers. She did all the ground work to plan a successful school visit—then was told by her principal that books with wizards in them were too controversial.

This is for the librarians who write grants and host bookfairs and otherwise raise money to supplement the funding that is never enough. These librarians find ways to get books into the hands of kids who have no books at home. Try to imagine accountants or pharmacists hosting bake sales to buy the tools of their trade.

This is for the librarian who gets a new book in and knows just who she’s going to give it to. And who after that, and who after that. Who models the love of books each and every day.

I just spent a day at O. Henry Middle School in Austin, with librarian Sara Stevenson. I presented three large programs and a writing workshop. The library was “closed” because of the author presentations, yet kids kept finding their way in. They couldn’t stay away. Her library is the heartbeat of the school. Running that library is like herding cats. The energy is infectious. I was exhausted and exhilarated after spending one day there. Sara is amazing. Her kids are lucky to have her.

It is so easy to get burned out in these jobs in a time when curricula and test scores have become straight-jackets that imprison flexible and creative educators. When it may be difficult to persuade teachers to send their students to the library and away from drills.

No one gets credit for instilling a lifelong love of reading in our kids. What a shame.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Alone at the Keyboard

Writing is like birth and death—you do it alone. Much as we writers try and make it a social activity—through blogs, conferences, retreats, electronic mailing lists, phone friends, and low-residency MFA programs—the work itself is a solitary business. When it gets down and dirty, it’s just you and your keyboard (or legal pad, or voice-activated tape recorder, or whatever.)

It’s not that we don’t have help. Depending on where you are with the process, you may have writing buddies, spouses, and friends offering encouragement, solace, and redirection. You may have a spouse or partner supplying financial and emotional support. You may have critique groups, assistants, agents and editors helping you shape your prose into something publishable. Just remember--no prose, no publication.

It’s easy to get distracted. When I attend writing conferences, I’m often struck by the lack of focus on craft. There are endless sessions on how to write a query letter, how to choose an agent, plan a career, publicize your book, and minimize taxes. The assumption is, we already know how to write—it’s all about packaging. I had one rather intense unpublished writer lecture me at length on how no publisher would ever look at my manuscript because it was formatted in Times New Roman and not Courier.

There is no license to write, so we all qualify. We confuse the mechanics we learned in school with the mysterious, arduous, threatening, magical process of writing a book that someone else will want to read. As Red Smith said, “Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” How much easier it is to attend another class or writing conference.

It’s possible to stay very, very busy with peripherals without actually doing any writing. You can hang out with writers, teach writing, and chair the social committee for the writing conference—but none of that makes you a writer.

Remember--nothing happens—and nothing is gonna happen until you write something. As Jane Yolen says, “Butt in chair.” Sooner or later you’re going to have to write the damn book.