Wednesday, October 29, 2008

By Dad

Snipped from an online conversation about libraries:

Person A:
[My] library has just recently switched over to giving you a receipt with the due date, rather than stamping it in the book (I kind of miss that, not sure why).

Person B:
I miss the old stamping of the book, too. That, and the old circulation card with your name and due date from grade school.... It gave a sense of history to the book and its readers. You could actually see who had an interest in the book--and perhaps you even knew the person.

That reminds me ... when I was in grad school in the '90s, I requested my dad's PhD dissertation (from the '40s) through inter-university loan. I loved seeing the names/locations and dates of people who'd checked it out.

Person B:
WOW! What a wonderful feeling it must have been. And a fine tribute. What was the subject?
Title: "A Study of the Relationships Between the Secondary School Science Curriculum and the Contemporary Culture Pattern in the United States, 1918-1940"

My mom typed its 650+ pages (through several revisions), including formatting 75 data tables ... on a manual typewriter of course, through three carbons; think of how strong a typist’s hands used to have to be.

I now have Dad's personal carbon copy, and someone's eventually going to have to pry it from my cold, dead hands :) I confess that I’ve still only skimmed it. But I'm in the midst of a looong-book reading challenge (one 500+ page book each month) and still need a couple titles to fill it out...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Master Metaphorist

With the death yesterday of fashion snark Mr. Blackwell, so goes a master of the metaphor.

His descriptions were as over-the-top as the celebrity fashions he satirized, but admit it: there’s perfection in his evocation. Take a moment to visualize these:

1. A peeled grape on the end of a pipe cleaner.

2. She dresses like the centerfold for the Farmer's Almanac.

3. Half sequined scarecrow, half gaudy acrobat. Is it Abe Lincoln in drag? I'll leave it at that!

4. A boutique toothpaste tube, squeezed from the middle.

5. In layers of cut-rate kitsch, [her] look is hard to explain…she resembles a tattered toothpick -- trapped in a hurricane!
Now match Mr. Blackwell’s descriptions to the celebrities (answers in the comments):

a) Celine Dion (2003)
b) Goldie Hawn (1969)
c) Mary Kate Olsen (2007)
d) Martha Stewart (1999)
e) Elizabeth Taylor (1966)

Friday, October 17, 2008

As in Rain Man

From John Sutter, the attorney-protagonist in Nelson DeMille’s forthcoming novel, The Gate House:

…the last will and testament, along with related papers, sometimes revealed a family secret or two -- an institutionalized sibling, an illegitimate child, two mistresses in Manhattan…
Mmm, juicy. And as Sutter goes on to indicate, the reveals are not only shocking, surprising, saddening -- but often amusing.

How might such a revelation open up one of your stories?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Original Story

Writers Weekly runs a quarterly, prompt-inspired Short Story Contest, wherein participants receive a prompt and word-count requirement, then immediately have a mere 24 hours to conceive, write, and submit their short stories.

The prompt from the recent summer competition:

The bells on the door were still echoing as she stepped further into the old toy store. The owner winked at her and turned back to his black and white television set. She reached under the rack on the back wall and pulled it out. It was just where she'd left it last week. She approached the counter and put the item down.

He turned to her, grabbed the item with surprise, and said, “This is NOT for sale...”
The contest guidelines note that a story doesn’t need to include the prompt literally, it only needs to “touch on the topic in some way.” As far as judging: “While good writing is a must, originality plays a huge role.”

So -- take a few minutes to riff on some ideas from the prompt above. The contest is closed, you won’t have to write the story … just imagine something original that it could involve.

Then take a look at the commonalities that judges found when reading the submissions. Are your ideas there?

Now read the text of the three winning stories … not completely unique, but yes, distinctive -- due largely to the writers having followed some part of the prompt that resonated, rather than staying literal to all of it.

Are you still an original? Then you might be a great fit for the winter contest on January 23.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

P.S.: Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week having ended, I looked through The American Library Association’s most recent long-list of banned and/or challenged books -- their top 100 of 2000-2007, compiled from 3,869 challenges*.

A number of the titles are familiar -- I’ve bolded those I’ve read (11) and italicized those I own but haven’t yet read (4) -- and others intrigue me anew. If I were in my twenties, they’d inspire me to activism; if I were a parent or grandparent, they’d inspire my reading for the next year. Heck, they inspire me anyway; I guess all publicity is good.

How about you?

1 Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
2 Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3 The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
4 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
5 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
6 Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz
7 Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
8 It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
9 And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
10 Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
11 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
12 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
13 Forever by Judy Blume
14 The Color Purple by Alice Walker
15 The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
16 Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
17 Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
18 King and King by Linda de Haan
19 Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
20 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
21 The Giver by Lois Lowry
22 We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
23 To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
24 Beloved by Toni Morrison
25 The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
26 Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
27 My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier
28 In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
29 His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
30 Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar
31 What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
32 Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
33 It’s So Amazing by Robie Harris
34 Arming America by Michael Bellasiles
35 Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
36 Blubber by Judy Blume
37 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
38 Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
39 Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
40 Life is Funny by E.R. Frank
41 Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan
42 Crazy Lady by Jane Leslie Conly
43 The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
44 You Hear Me by Betsy Franco
45 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
46 Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
47 The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey
48 The Facts Speak for Themselves by Brock Cole
49 The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
50 Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park
51 Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green
52 The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
53 When Dad Killed Mom by Julius Lester
54 Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause
55 The Fighting Ground by Avi
56 The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
57 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
58 Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
59 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
60 A Time To Kill by John Grisham
61 Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez
62 Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
63 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
64 A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
65 Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
66 Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
67 Black Boy by Richard Wright
68 Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
69 Deal With It! by Esther Drill
70 Detour for Emmy by Marilyn Reynolds
71 Draw Me A Star by Eric Carle
72 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
73 Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen
74 Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park
75 So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Watkins
76 Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
77 Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
78 What’s Happening to My Body Book by Lynda Madaras
79 The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
80 The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
81 Anastasia Again! by Lois Lowry
82 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
83 Bumps In the Night by Harry Allard
84 Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine
85 Shade’s Children by Garth Nix
86 Cut by Patricia McCormick
87 Grendel by John Gardner
88 The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
89 I Saw Esau by Iona Opte
90 Ironman by Chris Crutcher
91 The Stupids series by Harry Allard
92 Taming the Star Runner by S.E. Hinton
93 Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume
94 Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
95 Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
96 Nathan’s Run by John Gilstrap
97 Pinkerton, Behave! by Steven Kellog
98 Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers
99 Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
100 Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

* Per the ALA: “Research suggests that for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five which go unreported.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Coma": Japanese Bestseller?

A New Scientist article looked at the rates of human organ donation in various countries (see chart) and argued against the presumption that higher rates are due to national policies of "presumed consent" (a person is in the donor pool unless he opts out) vs "informed consent" (a person is out unless he opts in).

The writer theorized (based on experiences in the world's donation-leader, Spain) that rather than the law, high rates are the result of "efficient transplant coordination and the way families are approached," and went on to describe some of those factors.

All well and good and believable.

But for me, a huge question remains: What's going on in Japan??