Bookish Event!

This is a librarian thing rather than a writer thing, but it’s book-related, so I’ll post it anyway!

A coworker and I recently planned and presented a library program based on the Series of Unfortunate Events books/show/movie/aesthetic. We had a blast, and so did the kids who came to the party! Here’s what we did:

In preparation for the party, my coworker and I had fun making weird snacks! The Lake Lachrymose Leeches are sour gummy worms in Berry Blue Jell-O. (Fun fact: we had to buy real Jell-O because, while there are knockoffs that are slightly cheaper, we could not find them in any blue flavors. We wanted our lake water to be blue!) Once the Jell-O set, we just stabbed it with a sharp knife and inserted the gummy worms into the holes. The Lemony Cakes are lemon mini cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting, and the Red Herrings are, naturally, Swedish Fish.

gummy worms in blue jell-o
Lake Lachrymose Leeches
“Mendacious” is a word which here means “not strictly true, because these dishes do not really contain leeches or herrings.”

snack table

These decorations were lots of fun to put together. The map is an old one of Raleigh, NC!

map decorated with pins, photos, and strings

cardboard signpost with silly sign labelsOur main, big craft was the felt Incredibly Deadly Vipers. Our volunteers had previously prepared three-foot-long strips of felt, tapered at one end, and little felt snake tongues. We followed the instructions in this video to have each kid (with assistance, if necessary) braid a snake. Both ends were secured with large amounts of hot glue.

Our secondary craft was making Unlikely Hazard Signs. Kids could make signs warning of unusual hazards from the books – giant pincher machine, anyone? – or make up their own.

“Hazard” is a word which here means something worth warning people about. Without signs like these, people might accidentally trip, eat poison, embarrass themselves on CCTV, or get run over by a fork-lift.

We had a Secret Code Scavenger Hunt, though we didn’t really get photos of that. Each kid got a sheet with a series of symbols, and they had to search the library for little cards on which the symbols were translated into letters. Worked well . . . except that we’re pretty sure some little kid walked away with one of the cards, as no one, including us, could find it. Such are the hazards of holding scavenger hunts in public libraries during open hours.

We also had Hook-Handed Double-Dealing, a game in which kids put on two hooks over their hands and then tried to flip over playing cards as fast as possible. They could either compete against each other, or against our awesome coworker who was running that station. They also had the option of playing alone while our coworker timed them, and then trying to beat their own best times. They loved that!

My coworker, looking nefarious

This was all great fun. I want to share the photos and description partly because, when I was planning this program, I really appreciated other people’s posts on Series of Unfortunate Events parties they had put on. So here’s me trying to pay it forward. I hope this might help someone put on their own party!

Now Read THIS!

I love it when my day job as a librarian intersects with my interests as a writer. Which is often. For example, yesterday my library did a staff development program on readers’ advisory.

Readers’ advisory – helping a person find books to read – is pretty much the best. It’s a fun challenge to find out what books a person will enjoy, and it feels like a big win to find someone the perfect book.

When librarians do readers’ advisory, we tend to be thinking about what we call “appeal factors.” These are the different reasons why a person could like a book. For example, Alex might like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books because of the mythology, while Beth might like them because they’re funny. If I can find that out, then I’ll recommend different books to those two patrons.

Finding out can require some sneakiness, though. “Why did you like that book?” can be a tough and confusing question to answer, and can make people freeze up. If, on the other hand, you encourage a reader to talk about some books she liked, you’ll often hear, “It was so exciting, I read it really fast!” or “It was hilarious” or “It has all these creepy monsters that are really cool.”

At our readers’ advisory training, we talked mostly about four types of appeal factors:

1. Pacing

2. Characterization (includes character development, size of the cast, point of view, whether characters are likeable, and whether the same characters can be followed through a series)

3. Story (incorporating genre)

4. Frame (includes setting and tone)

Just the other day, someone told me that she usually loves thrillers, but couldn’t finish Gone Girl because the pace was too slow for her. A different person told me that she couldn’t stand that same book because she didn’t find any of the characters likable. Different people care about different appeal factors. And, of course, what they want can vary with their mood.

Unsponsored plug: If you have access to NoveList (your public library might!), then you can search books by appeal factor. That might be something like “nostalgic and bittersweet” (falls under Frame), “leisurely paced,” “large cast of characters,” or “intricately plotted.” It’s a pretty fun tool to play around with.

Thinking about appeal factors for your own stories can help you come up with good comparison titles if, say, you’re querying agents or publishers. It can also give you useful ways to describe your stories in general. Plus, it might help you find your next book-soulmate!

The Tough Choices

Y’all. There are, like, a bajillion books out there. In fact, there are probably a solid bajillion books out there that I would really like to read, or that you would really like to read. So how do we choose which ones we actually do read? And – a question of particular interest to authors – how do we choose which ones we buy?

I got thinking about this because of author Delilah Dawson’s post about authors’ social media marketing techniques that don’t work. (She followed this with a post about ones that she feels do work, and various other people responded with posts of their own.) This made me wonder: how do people choose what books to actually purchase?

I admit it: these days, I don’t buy a lot of books for myself personally. My budget’s tight, and also I work for a library system that can get me anything I want in a couple of days flat. (I’m so spoiled. How will I ever be able to leave? *clings to CLAMS system*) I do buy books for other people as presents. These are usually either books I’ve read and loved, books with massive buzz that sound like they’d fit the giftee perfectly, or sometimes books recommended by the employees of my local independent bookstore or by the lovely reference librarian at my own library.

However. Outside of all that, I still spend approximately $500 a month on YA books. That’s because I’m a Teen Services librarian for a very-well-funded public library. So I thought my rationale for that buying might be of some interest.

First of all, I read a LOT of YA book review sites and blogs. Probably my favorites are Forever Young Adult, Diversity in YA, and the periodic diverse book lists posted by author Malinda Lo. I also use No Flying No Tights, among other sites, for graphic novels. When I’m not sure whether to order a book or not, I sometimes check out its reviews on Goodreads, though I know to take most individual reviews there with a grain of salt.

A big part of the library buying is basic rather than discretionary. That is, demand dictates that I MUST buy these things before buying stuff that just sounds neat. Is there a new Sarah Dessen coming out? A new John Green? Something with Maggie Stiefvater’s or Cassandra Clare’s name on it? A new Raina Telgemeier graphic novel? And then there are series to keep up-to-date.

You know you want some of this. Let’s be real: we all want some of this.

My library is part of CLAMS, a system with about three dozen libraries which, as I mention above, can do quick and easy interlibrary loans. This means that every library will not collect every series, even if they’re popular. For example, my library doesn’t carry the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard, because there are fifteen of them (not counting prequels, sidequels, whatever) and our patrons can easily order them from another library. But we do carry The Lying Game series by Sara Shepard, while some other libraries in CLAMS don’t. This leads some libraries to unofficially specialize in certain types of books. Mine, for example, has a lot of superhero graphic novels in the YA collection, and a pretty decent YA audiobook selection. But there are lots of popular things we don’t have, like all fifty million volumes of Naruto. Another library has those. We cover the gaps in each other’s collections. (Though, of course, we all have, say, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, because NOT OPTIONAL.)

On the other hand, my library is located in a summer resort town. We make it easy for vacationers to get library cards and check out materials. This means that we don’t want to rely too hard on other libraries having popular books, because in summer, we’ll get lots of people who want to pick something up that day, making interlibrary loan unhelpful. So we have to balance that.

To make sure I don’t miss a big upcoming book release, I regularly go through the long long list of all the YA books that will become available via our ordering system, Ingram, in the next few months or year. That is a LOT of books. Ingram is fairly thorough in terms of what books are included, but it doesn’t give much of a summary of each book, so I turn again to book review sites.

I order each year’s Printz winner, and usually the honor books, too, if we don’t already have them. And I tend to buy books that aren’t in CLAMS if patrons request them (recent examples include the Horatio Lyle series by Catherine Webb).

If there seems to be a gap in our nonfiction collection, I’ll look for books on that topic specifically. I order anything that looks half-decent if it has Minecraft in the title, and same with guides to drawing manga. My library is also the only one in CLAMS with an up-to-date collection of Dungeons & Dragons manuals, which are very popular.

After I’ve ordered what I think our patrons will demand, then I get to pick lesser-known books that look high-quality and/or fun and/or important. (When I say “important,” I usually mean books that feature underrepresented views or situations.) While patron demand requires me to order every new Ally Carter book, my own knowledge of their greatness requires me to order every new Sara Farizan book. (Not dissing Ally Carter. Just saying she’s popular like whoa.) Ditto Brandon Sanderson’s YA books, A.S. King, Lamar Giles, and oodles more.


If you haven’t yet crammed every word of this book eagerly into your brain, then you are not living your best life.

I discovered A.S. King through recommendations on the Young Adult Library Services listserv. I heard about Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson from a coworker. I heard Sara Farizan interviewed about If You Could Be Mine on NPR. I discovered Brandy Colbert through a review of Pointe on Forever Young Adult, and now consider her books must-haves for the collection. (Is that new one ready yeeeet?) Honestly, if a book gets a great review on Forever Young Adult and no one else in CLAMS has it, I’ll order it on the spot.

So I guess in this instance, Delilah Dawson is right: Twitter and Facebook are not motivating me to buy books for the library. They don’t hurt, but it’s mostly reviews from people I respect and word-of-mouth that makes me order a book when I don’t already know it will be wildly popular with our patrons.

What makes you buy a book, or how do you learn about books you then go on to buy?

Puttin’ On the Printz

Yes, that is the title I’m going with. I REGRET NOTHING.

When this year’s Printz award winner, In Darkness by Nick Lake, was announced, a flurry of e-mails came through the Young Adult Library Services Association listserv. Most came down on one side or the other of a divide over whether it is right that the Printz award explicitly excludes in its criteria any consideration of the books’ popularity with teens. For any unfamiliar with it, the Michael L. Printz award is the big award for teen literature – the older sibling of the Newbery. The question now is whether it is a cool older sibling that makes you eager to reach high school because you’re sure it’s going to be just like on Buffy and you and all your friends will be attractive and have fun all the time and never actually seem to go to class, or a really smart but kind of socially awkward older sibling who can be super pretentious sometimes and also makes people uncomfortable by talking about all the suffering going on in developing nations and then glaring around accusingly. The corollary is, which of these siblings is really a better one to have?

I admit, I see both sides of this. We had a lot of people saying, “The Printz needs to focus only on literary quality, because we have to have something to distinguish teen books of high literary quality and it helps them get noticed and sell well and also brings prestige to YA lit as a whole.” We also had a lot of people saying, “I cannot get teens to pick up the Printz winners, but I’m still expected to buy them with my limited budget and store them with my limited space.”

(Then we had one guy who freaked out with plenty of colorful language about how anyone dared to criticize the decision of the hard-working Printz committee, and then an avalanche of people decrying his lack of professionalism on this professional listserv. I bet you thought librarians were quiet!)

Anyway, to the latter of the two main opinions, I would add, “And it might make teens feel like the Printz winners are really not chosen for them.” When I was a kid, I would basically read anything with words on it that held still long enough, but I learned quickly to avoid the shiny round Newbery sticker. My associations with it were exactly my associations with books assigned by my teachers: adults like this and think you’d better read it, but they know they have to do something to make you, or else you never would because it’s no fun at all. I had vague ideas that adults judged the quality of a book by how many characters died in it, or how many dragons and mysteries and smooches and other intriguing things were NOT in it.*

And if Teenaged Nic looked at the Printz winners, I suspect she’d feel much the same. I did enjoy Ship Breaker (a previous winner), but I looked at In Darkness – because, as a teen services librarian, I’m now ordering a copy for our collection – and thought sadly that it sounded like a total depressing chore with absolutely minimal dragons, smooches, etc.

That said, I do see the value of having an award based just on literary quality. I think it’s just a matter of really considering who the award is for. Is it for teens who enjoy really good writing? Is it to tell teens what they “ought” to read? Is it for adults looking to choose books for teens (teachers, parents, etc.)? Or is it really just the favorite among, or most impressive to, the (all adult) judges?

I guess what I wonder is, if popularity with teens is not included as a criteria, is any criteria considered that reflects the book being a good one for teens? (No such thing appears in the official posted criteria.) One of the YALSA listserv contributors made an interesting suggestion: due to the surging popularity of the YA category of books, it may be that publishers are putting out books as YA that would really be more appropriately classed as adult but, for example, have teen protagonists. These books, really meant for adults, might appeal very much to the adult judges who allocate the Printz awards.


*I still think some people judge books this way.

If You’re Going to Dance in Storms, You Should Probably Research Them First

So, awhile ago, I was looking at upcoming teen books to potentially order for the library where I work, and I saw this:


And then I saw this:

“. . . Japanese Steampunk novel with mythical creatures, civil unrest, and a strong female protagonist . . .” – from Patrick Rothfuss’ blurb

My heart, it went pitter-pat.

So I ordered the book for our library. It arrived, looking just as pretty as the image above, and has so far circulated a couple of times. I have not read it. But recently, I started reading some reviews that made my heart go things other than pitter-pat. Things more in the general vein of “sink,” if I had to be specific.

The first review I saw was this one at lady business, which broadly and briefly covers some facts that have been bothering people: author Jay Kristoff seems to have got a lot of his Japanese culture stuff (notably terms of address, whether or not pandas live in Japan) wrong, and then basically brushed off all criticism: “It’s fantasy, folks, not international frackin’ diplomacy.”

For a much more detailed, blow-by-blow account of problems one reader had with the book, see the review at You’re Killing Me. While I, too, would probably take issue with the Bathing Scene of Unexamined Creepiness (I must here recommend this excellent post on the male gaze in writing), the thing mostly under scrutiny in Stormdancer is that it’s inaccurate to Japan and Japanese culture.

Kristoff’s main response to this criticism seems to be a claim that the story actually takes place in a land like Japan, and not actual Japan. Some people are brushing this off, but I think it’s an important point. I strongly believe that people should be able – even encouraged – to write settings that are loosely based on non-European civilizations in the same way that oh so many fantasies take place in settings that are loosely based on European cultures. You shouldn’t be held to the historical facts of a country that your setting is only based on, any more than we should shake our fists at dozens of popular fantasy authors because medieval Europe didn’t really have this term or that animal.

I wrote myself awhile ago about coming up with another name for garments my characters were wearing that are close to saris in part because I didn’t want people assuming my setting was India when it isn’t; a similar concern is expressed by blogger Linda in this excellent post on her desire to write fantasy with Asian characters that isn’t set in Asia. (Yes, technically, one is only Asian if one comes from Asia. What she means is that she wants to write characters who, if they were in our world, would be considered to look Asian, in the same way that legions of blonde and blue-eyed fantasy heroes and heroines would look recognizably Caucasian, despite the fact that their fantasy worlds presumably have no Caucasus regions.)

BUT. The blurb right on the front cover of Stormdancer refers to the novel as “Japanese,” and Kristoff doesn’t correct it. There is, apparently, very frequent use of Japanese terms – the book actually includes a glossary. Curiously, some of the terms, like -sama and hai, are used incorrectly throughout the book but have their correct uses described in the glossary. This does rather support Kristoff’s claim that he has fudged and changed things a la George R. R. Martin, who bases his famous A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series loosely on England during the War of the Roses, but changes spellings (“sir” to “ser,” for example).

Still, the impression I get is that Kristoff has crossed the line into appropriation territory. (For a good article on the location of this line, see the Zoe-Trope.)

I also get the impression he makes some choices that are just plain unfortunate. Linda, whose blog I mentioned earlier, also gives us an excellent rant on how frustrating it is that, in a world populated with characters who look Japanese, everyone swoons over the protagonist’s love interest . . . because of his green eyes. Certainly being attracted to people who look different from you is common – and often genetically useful – but to make everyone wildly attracted to (and not even a little, um, freaked out by) an eye color that presumably they’ve never seen on a human before? And an eye color that, not gonna lie, is pretty much a white thing? Kiiinda problematic.

Related to that, one thing I’ve personally gained from all this: the idea of researching different cultures’ standards of beauty. I think that paying so much attention to eye color is really kind of a white thing – if everyone in your culture has brown eyes, are you going to notice it when you meet a new person? That would be kind of like noticing that they have a nose. (On a side note, how hilarious would it be if a character did describe each person s/he met without taking anything for granted? “He walked upright on two legs, with one head located at the top of his body . . .” Somewhat hilarious, is my guess, followed by very tedious.) I’ve already tried to emphasize other, non-eye-color features in the aforementioned not-set-in-India fantasy, but I’ll be curious to learn more about how other cultures measure attractiveness.

How about you? What features do your characters notice about themselves and others? What features do their cultures value and devalue?

Book Trailerage!

For my March teen program at the library, I’m going to be doing a workshop on book trailers – what they are, how to make them. I feel – and this is strange for me – the desire to thank James Patterson, as he is responsible for the only book trailers I’ve ever seen actually aired on television. Other people have seen them too, which I hope will make it easier for them to recognize what these are and how they’re sometimes used.

Anyway, I’ll show some examples of various trailers, but I’m also going to walk the teens through how I made one myself. For that, I figured I’d make a new one, as my old Flyy Girl trailer is, um, a bit risqué. (Also, complicated to create.)

So! I chose the book Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman, as I read it last year and loved it. Made the following trailer in iMovie:

Then, I decided to try out Animoto. And guys, Animoto is fun. And SIMPLE. I’m going to use the one I made using that program for my step-by-step trailer how-to, because it is WAY easier than iMovie. (The downside being that, with a free account, you can only make videos that are quite short. Still, that just forces you to be creative. Editing for the win!) Anyway, here’s the trailer I made with Animoto:


. . . and graphic novels! No Flying No Tights has posted another of my reviews. It’s more Pokémon manga. And it’s not the last of them. (Bwahaha?)

In other news, I’m using GIMP and my* tablet to work on the illustrations for The Book of Foxes. I wish I knew how the illustrators of, say, Diary of a Wimpy Kid or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or the Training Your Dragon series handle the technical side of combining drawings with text. I was drawing and scanning the illustrations, but now I’m trying out just drawing them in GIMP. This is nice because it completely eliminates the kind of smudge-and-debris marks you sometimes get with scanning, and it makes it very easy to correct mistakes. So we’ll see how that goes.

My Teen Services Librarian job here in MA is awesome! Since I also handle the library’s publicity, I’m doing a lot of press releases and posters right now, but I have a Year of the Dragon-themed teen program coming up at the end of the month. Woo!

*borrowed from my brother with no intention of ever returning it

Florida and Massachusetts

No Flying No Tights has posted my review for Troublemaker, books one and two, by Janet Evanovich and her daughter. Fun story set in Florida. Where, by coincidence, I currently am, vacationing with my family.

When we get back from vacation, I’m headed north to Massachusetts, where I’ll be starting a fantastic job! I will be the Teen Services Librarian at the Brewster Ladies’ Library. Planning and running teen programs, collection development, and making and distributing promotional material – woo! I’m all kinds of excited.

In the meantime, continuing to work on Looking Like Lani, and life is just generally snazzy.

Things With Which I’m Busy

My review of The Clockwork Girl just went up at No Flying No Tights! Huzzah!

Tomorrow, I will collect the last set of circulation data for my thesis project. This is because the thesis is due in mid-November, so I have to finish it, like, nowish. However, because I hope to take this study to its maximum level of possible awesomeness, and then try to publish it, I plan to continue collecting surveys and data on the circulation of graphic novels in the section I set up for another month or two. Still, this last data set is important and exciting, so woo.