Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Series of Disjointed Rambling Posts: #2 The Award News!

If you saw my last post, you know what my secret trip looked like at sunset. Here's what it may have looked like during the day:

File under PA LIBRARIANS totally ROCK:

Last week, I got word that EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS has been named a 2012 Carolyn W. Field Award Honor Book by the Youth Services Division of the Pennsylvania Library Association. This is completely awesome and I can't thank the PA Library Association enough. Thank you!
More information about the award can be found here.

The 2012 Carolyn Field Award winner is Around the World, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan, Candlewick Press. Matt rocks, this book rocks, and I am so happy I can be in Gettysburg to watch him accept it!

Another 2012 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book: Born and Bred in the Great Depression, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root, Schwartz & Wade Books.

I can't wait to go to Gettysburg in October for the 2012 conference.
Thank you again, PA librarians!

So About the Death Thing

We get caught up in analyzing stuff because we're human. And we box and label stuff because we're human. And I'm not saying it's not okay to have opinions. BUT. Sometimes we forget that art imitates life and sometimes we forget how lucky we might be.

Look. The internet is one big advertisement. As users of the internet, we are all creating content. In the search for content to share, we often write opinions. In the world of YA lit, there are several articles per year that claim that YA lit is: _______________. (a. too lowbrow for adults. b. the way to connect with your kids. c. full of horrible language and content that no teen should see. d. too dark! Oh noes! e. all of the above.) There are also helpful-to-new-writers pieces about the content of YA lit. Lists of overused plot devices. How-to and how-to-not articles. Flippant 140 character Twitter tweets about how if this reader reads one more book where a kid's on drugs or a parent dies, he/she will puke.

Look. If you're a writer, I hope you're not paying attention to any of this. Anything can work if done well. And in life, these things happen...I don't care HOW sick some tweetling is of reading it. Their 140 characters shouldn't sway your idea in any way.

Why am I even talking about this?
The prospective 2014 book has a dead parent. Not a "typical" dead parent...whatever the hell that means.
In the time I've been writing it, I read several of these off-the-cuff tweets about how children's books have too many dead parents.
Those comments aren't rare or anything. But still, I almost double-thought myself.
But then I remembered what it was like being a teenager and being told that my mother was going to die. (Here's that story.)
And then, last week, someone very close to me died and left a wonderful family, including children, behind.
And I thought, about those flippant tweets: What would those two kids think of some adult saying that dead parents are "overdone" or "trite" or "a convenient plot twist"? That the hell they're going through is being ground through that internet click machine?
It made me think: we are all advertising.
It made me think: we are all out here saying what we need to say to make ourselves heard...even if it completely overlooks the point of why writers put dead parents in books.
Drumroll here.
There is no one reason people die in books.

There is nothing convenient about my character's mother dying in the prospective 2014 book.
And let me tell you: if you are one of the lucky people who got through life so far without a parent dying, then I hope you know that many people aren't as lucky.

My first week as a camp counselor, I had four campers in my cabin. Two of them were ten-year-old cousins. One had just lost her father, and the other, her uncle. As in: he was buried the day before camp started. Those kids came to camp anyway. And we had a relatively good time, though at night, they might cry and need hugs.

Yesterday, I played monkey in the middle with two kids who recently lost their dad. It made them smile a little. It might have brought a tiny speck of near-normalcy into their life. It made me feel like I could do something. Anything. To help them.

How do I end this ramble?
This 2014 book, it's about death. It's about how death is all around us and that we are part of it. It's about how death scares us and ruins our plans. (It's also about lice and a bat and people at the mall.)

Recently, someone referred to ASK THE PASSENGERS as a (cringe) "lesbian-themed book." In all fairness, I believe this was someone paraphrasing another person. I do not think the person who came up with that term understood the book or the questioning idea behind it because if they did, they would have not called it a "lesbian-themed book." Hell, anyone who knows me or my work knows I just write books. I don't write "YA books" or "children's books" or whatever easy-to-slap-on label you want to stick on me or my work. I just write books. I'm happy my work landed on shelves where young adults can access it and teachers can use it in classes. But I don't aim. I just write.

We just box things.
It's what we do.
Humans = box lovers. Labelers. Organizers of categories.
We like things to be neat and tidy.
And lesbian-themed.
We like control.
Therefore, we're not all that keen on death.

And so, we like to be able to say concrete clickity-click things like: here's what to avoid putting in your YA book: dead parents!

I bet you a million bucks any kid with a dead parent wishes it was as easy as that.

Have you ever seen a river from an airplane? Have you ever seen how it twists and turns and nearly crosses over itself in an illogical journey across the landscape? What happened to humans? When did we lose touch with the fact that we are as natural, illogical and unboxable as that?

Here's a link to Disjointed Rambling Post #1.


E.M. Kokie said...

Amen. So many kids deal with death, with loss in many forms. When life stops being a terminal condition we can stop writing about death. And amen again on the propensity to box and label and cage. Reducing anything - book or person - to a label often misses the point entirely.

A.S. King said...

Thanks! Even telling my kid about this death was...a kid dealing with death. She immediately realized that my life and her dad's life are not guaranteed. She realized that we are fragile. And she is really sad about those kids not having that parent anymore.
So why shouldn't we talk about it?
While on one hand, I realize that these tweeters may read a lot of death-of-parent-as-plot-device manuscripts, it doesn't make it a how-to rule. Right?


Sharyn Ekbergh said...

My favorite book about death is Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. It is on my short shelf of books that I keep to re-read and would carry to that desert island. The scene where the dog gets off the boat gets me every time.

A.S. King said...

Ooo! I haven't read that yet and I just met Gabrielle. Looks like I have a new book on my TBR tower. Thanks.

Joelle said...

Great post. You may not know this, because it came out quite a while ago (but seems to resurface fairly often), but I wrote an article called Red Hair is Not as Uncommon as You Think - 25 overused things in MG & YA. One of the things on the list is dead mothers.

I got a few emails from people very upset with me because they had a dead mother in their book and who was I to tell them how to write? I totally agree! What I tried to stress in the article, however, is that there's NOTHING WRONG with using ANY of the things on the list, as long as you do it for a reason. Most of the things on the list are things that writers come up with very quickly off the top of their head though and don't bother to back them up in any way. Looking back, what made me include dead mothers, and perhaps I should've been more specific, is the dead mother who is simply dead to get rid of her, and the MC has no feelings, repercussions, or thoughts on it. Usually, in this case, the MC doesn't miss the mother because they died at the MC's birth, so no big deal. That's what drives me crazy!

In my new book, one of the character's father is dead. And she never knew him, but it affects everything she does.

I guess, what I'm trying to say kind of inarticulately (but I did just wake up) is that perhaps the "dead parent" syndrome that actually BOTHERS readers is the throw-away deaths, the ones where the character has no baggage from it, it's just easier to have one parent in the story so the author ditched the other one. Or the author thought, "Well, divorce is so common, I think I'll kill off the parent instead." And I do think you see this in YA a lot.

Joelle said...

I too love ELSEWHERE. Fabulous book!

A.S. King said...

Joelle, I knew someone would show up who'd written a what-not-to-do list, so I hope you weren't too offended. Seems you weren't. I'm glad.

I've never seen any of these lists for adult books.
That annoys me.
I wish MG and YA books weren't so over-scrutinized. And yet, when someone says that, I hear an interesting reply from the community. YA is scrutinized because it's click bait. YA community is touchy, so if you write about YA, you will get hits. I don't know if that's true.
I know that I don't see many articles telling writers for adults what to do.

I don't know if the absent/dead parent can ever truly be ignored by the child who survived. I'm sure the idea of death is kicking around their brain somewhere.

I've yet to read a book where the death of a parent is a throw-away death. Maybe those are more rare than we think?

Conveniently absent parents annoy me, no doubt. I have read plenty of those. But conveniently dead, not so much.

And so, Elsewhere is now pretty high up on my TBR tower!

Teen Librarian's Toolbox, Karen said...

If all anyone gets out of ASK THE PASSNEGERS is Lesbian themed, then my heart shatters for them and the experience they are missing. As for dead parents, mine our both alive but we haven't known how to be a family since I was in the 4th grade and they told me they were divorcing. When I read books with familia dinners and visits with grandparents, it is an enigma to me. Every life is different. And writers need to write the stories their muse is bringing to them. And readers need to both find stories tha they identify and connect with AND stories that help them go outside themselves and develop compassion and thinking skills. I loved this post and cried once again as I thought about your mom. And am amazed every day that there are people out there trying to be a positive, thinking force in the universe. So thank you.

Joelle said...

Amy, not offended at all! This is a great discussion. Here's the link to my article, so you can see it's really not an article about what not to do or even scrutinizing YA/MG much at all, but it's about my path as a reader. If you take the list on its own, then it's very misleading because without the context of my article, it definitely DOES sound like: You shouldn't do this because it's overdone. Interestingly, almost the only time I've gotten flack over it is when someone cuts just the list and posts it on their blog out of context. I've had many more positive emails saying things like "It made me think more about the quick choices I've made." which was my intention. And the reason it's for MG & YA is because that's what I write/read and I wrote it for SCBWI's newsletter. I got a lot of emails saying you could write a list like this for Science Fiction and Adult etc.

As for throw-away dead parents, I think you do see it to say this diplomatically...lighter books? Non-issue books?

Some of my FAVOURITE recent books deal with death...yours, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE, and THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. My best friend died suddenly last year, and these books actually helped me more than they made me sad...of course, I had to wait a bit before reading them, but I count them as books that are helping me heal. They're so important!

A.S. King said...

I'm probably not paying attention all that much to how-to adult fiction blogs. Heck. Who am I fooling? I don't pay attention much to anything how-to related.

I did see quite a few tweets and comments about dead parents in the last few months and it made me brace myself again. But I always have to brace myself, really, because humans will forever be slotting books into categories. I am braced for the "lesbian themed" thing as much as I am now braced for the "death of a parent" thing, same as i was braced for the "bullying book" thing.

I wonder if lice & porn will ever end up on those lists.

Maybe the 2014 book is safe in that regard.


A.S. King said...

Karen: you rock! I really think that was a paraphrase someone used, so I don't think a reader missed the point all that much. That said, readers sometimes miss my points. I'm okay with that. If I wasn't, I should find another job.

I have officially received my first piece of hate mail for tPASSENGERS though. Don't be alarmed, the letter contained no new information from past hate mail. My flight to hell is still firmly booked and I may have just earned an upgrade to first class.