Mad Monday: Rating Books

One of the biggest, hottest genres out there is YA (young adult) and MG (middle grade).

YA are books specified for children 12-18 yrs old. MG are books specified for 8-12 yr olds. Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Chronicles of Narnia, The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Graveyard Book, and A Wrinkle in Time series are all MG. It’s assumed that there will be NO objectionable material in the MG genre, as far as sex, violence, and language goes. This used to be the case with YA, too.

In the book, Writing and Selling the Young Adult Book by K.L. Going she talks about one big reason people read the genre is because it is cleaner than the adult genre. When I talk to my voracious reader friends, whether teens or adult, one reason they state that they love the YA genre is because it doesn’t have the sex, violence, and language that they prefer to avoid.

But there’s great diversity of content in YA books. And now it’s easier to pick up a YA book with sex, violence, and language in it than to find one that’s clean. And I’ve read some YA books that I wondered why they weren’t in the adult genre. Not just because of the sex, violence, or language in them, but because the voice and tensions in the book felt like they weren’t in a young adult context.

I’m NOT about banning books or drawing skull-and-crossbones on “dirty” books or anything like that. I want all of these books to be written and published and set on the shelves for teens and adults to read.

But I am also a big fan of knowing what you pay for. 

In the YA section, you can pick up books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Marcelo in the Real World with explicit sexual jokes and scenes, or you could pick up The Book Thief which has no innuendo. You can pick up a fantasy like the Leviathan and find little violence or you can pick up The Hunger Games and get more than your fill.

This is good. Diversity is awesome because teen readers are so diverse. But for those teens who prefer not to read about sex, violence, or language I think we should make it easy on them to find books they’d enjoy.

I think it’s time that “objectionable content” was listed on the backs of books. Not anything like a MPAA rating system, but just a way for readers to know what they’re getting. It’d be nice to pick up a YA book and know if there’s sexual content, violence, or language. Of course this doesn’t solve every problem, because sex scenes in Twilight, Shiver, Graceling, Sold, and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants aren’t at all graphic and they can get graphic in other books, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

I wrote more about this topic in an article called Ellie Ann Battles Sex, Violence, and Rock and Roll.

What do you think about listing objectionable material in YA books?

Have you read any good posts/thoughts on the idea you can share?

A Chat with Bestselling Author Vicki Hinze

Bestselling author Vicki Hinze is the talented author of more than 25 books, published in 63 countries, with more than 1 million books in print! And it’s no shock. Her good books are, as she described, “destined to thrill, fated to heal.” They’re not only thrillers, they take each character and theme to a deeper level.

And she’s been so fun to get to know. She’s not only wonderful, she’s full of wonder.

Which is why I’m so happy to have an interview with her today! Without further ado, dear readers, may I introduce to you Vicki Hinze:

You’re a thriller writer. Tell us about some things you find thrilling.

Politics, science, history, space, but mostly people. Issues they face, challenges that confront them, coping skills.  I am totally fascinated by people. What they think and do, how they react in crises (some consider good things crises, too), what makes them tick and what ticks them off. People thrill me. They’re just so different and interesting.

How long have you been writing, and what was your very, very, very first book like?

I started before I started school. To read the Sunday comics, I had to read the front page of the newspaper and discuss the issues of the day with my dad at dinner. If I did so all week, then on the weekend, I could read the comics. That’s where my love for writing began. I started writing little essays about my reactions to what I read. Later moved into poetry, and then into novels. I love novel writing.

My very first book was awful–and I loved it. It was called NIGHT VISIONS and was about a psychotic recreating his parents’ past to change his future. A technical mess. A mechanical mess. But I so loved that book. That did it. I was and remained hooked on writing.

You’re in jail and you can have one book to read for the next 10 years, what do you choose?

Jail?  Ellie, I refuse to do jail!  Stick me in jail and I’m not going to read, I’m going to focus on getting out of jail.  Mmm, Law for Dummies, I guess.  I can’t read just one book, Ellie.  That’s torture–even if sequestered in a penthouse.  I need variety.  Thrillers, mysteries, romance–books that inspire and lift up.  Those are as essential as air.  I’d have them even if I had to write them on the walls or in my head.

What’s one magical thing you wished were real?

I’d say utopia but it’d be uninhabited since so long as there are human beings, there will be conflict.  That nixes that.  So I’ll opt for a teleport system that lets me travel hassle-free and instantaneously–and since I’m feeding my fantasies here–through time.

What’s your writing space like?

Cluttered, messy, and yet organized. <g>  Huge oak desk (I’ve seen the top of it, but it’s been a while), another desk, two bookshelves, two file cabinets, two chairs, two closed cabinets, one open one, and stacks everywhere.  Books waiting for endorsements, manuscripts, proposals, books and magazines I want to read, and more stacks.  TV on the wall in the corner which is typically on the news, phone and fax, laptop and desktop with a huge monitor (so I can’t see more stacks).  An altar, which my father built before he died–a sacred space–with items on top that mean special things to me.  One is a compass, so I never lose my way or lose sight of what most matters, and a collection of crosses and tapestries. That whole corner of the room is filled with things that inspire me.  And I have framed book covers on the wall (so when I’m writing and thinking I can’t do this, I’m reminded I can because I have).  And my treasure is in the corner near the altar.  It’s a pot filled with little branches and twigs my grands gave me as gifts.  I have angel ornaments hanging on the branches because I’ve always called the grands my angels. Treasures, those.

What do you love about your job?

The license to daydream, the illusion of control, the ability to write through fears and issues that matter to me.  I love the potential in sharing something that might be just what someone else needs to read or hear at a given moment in time.  To shine light on dark things so they’re not dark anymore.  I often imagine whatever I’m tackling being isolated with me in a dark hallway.  No light, lots of doors, but I can’t find them or see them.  But by the end of the book, some of those doors are open and there’s light shining in from the end of the hall:  a constructive way out exists.  I love those images.  They both inspire me and make me determined and disciplined.

What don’t you love about your job?

Spending so much time alone.  I love people, enjoy them, and, as I said, am fascinated by them.  Writing requires a lot of time alone, lost with the people inside your head.  That’s an amazing adventure, but I like adventures with people who exist outside my head, too.

If you had to swim across a sea of any beverage, what would it be?

We’re gonna need a gazillion more cups.

Probably coffee. (I’m figuring fresh water doesn’t fit into your plan here.)  With coffee, I’d have a 50/50 shot of drinking myself to the other side.

In your opinion, who is the best character . . . ever.

This is so hard.  How do you compare a Batman to a John Coffey (The Green Mile) to the classics.  I can’t do it, Ellie.  I just can’t.  I love many characters, but there are many who are best at what they’ve done.

Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written, or are they like children in that you love them all equally?

I have one writing rule.  I will not write a book I don’t love.  That’s it.  So I do love them all.  I love some things in each of the books more than others, but I love all the books.  Explaining:  In HER PERFECT LIFE, I wrote about a female POW who was deemed dead.  Six years later, she is discovered, rescued, and returns home.  Only home isn’t there anymore.  Her husband’s remarried to a great woman, the heroine can’t even hate.  Her children are strangers and consider the new wife their mom.  Her life is gone, her family has been claimed by another, and she’s lost.  But she rebuilds and discovers she hadn’t lost her perfect life, she’s only now found it.  I love that.  Then in NOT THIS TIME, the heroine, Beth, has torn loyalties.  She doesn’t trust her best friend and partner’s husband, and it causes all kinds of conflict.  When he goes missing, is kidnapped, and reported murdered, she’s the primary suspect–and she’s fighting torn loyalties as well as false accusations and betrayal.  But she sucks it up and does what she has to do, and really battles with herself on taking the high road or the easy one.  Battles and conflicts we face all the time.  I love that–that she’s conflicted and has to choose, like the rest of us.
Tell us about your latest book!

That would be NOT THIS TIME. :)

 What’s on your horizon?

I have a book out nearly every month for the next 13 months.  Some are new, some are reissues.  I’m also seeing my own imprint, Magnolia Leaf Press, release GIRL TALK: LETTERS BETWEEN FRIENDS, a women’s fiction novel that spans from 1962 to the mid 80s.  It’s different for me so they’ll be released as Vicki Hinze writing as Kali Kaye to cue my readers these aren’t inspirationals or thrillers or military suspense.

As you can see, I’m still experimenting, doing what I love and respectfully thumbing my nose at those who say I have to write one kind of book.  That’s just not me and it’s not my purpose in writing.
Thanks so much for the lovely interview, Vicki! Please check out her awesome website, and peruse her list of books for sale. There’s sure to be one that’ll catch your fancy.
She’s also a great tweet to have ( @vickihinze ) and like her page on Facebook!

Mad Monday: Classics Are The Ultimate Bestsellers

I had a classical education, raised on organic veggies and E.B. White. I recently came across a list of 100 classic book you should before you die–I had read 66 of them before I was 17. Because we didn’t have a TV when I was young, classics were my Muppets, Saturday Morning Cartoons, and Saved by the Bell. They have a special place in my heart. Which is why this line (heard quite often around the lit blogosphere) grinds my gills:

“You can’t write books like they did back then, no one would publish it.”

To which I reply:

WHY THE HECK NOT?

I mean, are the classics only good because they are old? Is it true that publishers these days wouldn’t take a second glance at A Little Princess, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women [okay, why do they all have little in them?], White Fang, Ivanhoe, The Black Arrow, A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, The Time Machine, etc.?

To which I respectfully and humbly say: THAT IS MORONIC.

A Little Princess isn’t a classic because it’s old. It’s a classic because it has characters and themes that people relate to today just as much as they did when it was first published. It’s still ingested and digested and given to nieces for their 9th birthdays.

One of my good friends, fresh off drugs and now addicted to reading–is getting a buzz from all the classic horror novels–Dracula, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Hound of the Baskervilles–and you can’t say the vocabulary is too lofty for modern day readers because she only has a 9th grade education. Why does she buy them? Why does she like them? Because they’re darn fine stories!

I just talked to an 8th grader who loves to read, and guess what she’d recently picked up and couldn’t put down? Wuthering Heights. It seems Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff acting like selfish asses is just as fun to read today as it was a hundred years ago. And (more importantly), readers will still buy it even with all of the competition it has on the library shelves.

Classics have plenty of things that you could criticize. Dumas was paid for the word and he . . . wanted to make a lot of money when he wrote a book. Les Miserables has so many characters it’s hard to get through. Upton Sinclair can get preachy and Jane Austen can be shallow. Jack London can get lost in the woods, and Mark Twain can get too goofy. But good heavens, their characters! Just saying their names illicits some kind of connection or emotion:

Aslan!

Anne Shirley!

Tom Sawyer!

Holden Caulfield!

Jay Gatsby!

Javert!

Darth Vader! (wait, how’d he get in here?)

Mr. Darcy!

Don Quixote!

Simon Legree!

Anna Karenina!

Oliver Twist!

Athos! Porthos! Aramis!

Meg! Jo! Beth! Amy!

Dorian Gray!

Atticus Finch!

Fiver!

I could go on and on and on . . .

Those characters give modern day writers a challenge–it’s hard to top them. In fact, it might be just compensation syndrome when writers start bashing the classics.

Perhaps the next writer I hear say that the classics couldn’t be published in today’s market, I’ll ask which classic they are specifically talking about …

is it Moby Dick … who has such lines as:

truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more.

Or perhaps no publisher would take Charles Dickens anymore, with such words as:

“In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile.”

“Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he’s well dressed. There ain’t much credit in that.”

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

No, it is Oscar Wilde who cannot make it in this modern publishing arena, with such quotes as:

Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

Or the father of fantasy, who is oft charged for adding too many mundane storyworld facts, perhaps he wouldn’t be accepted with such lines as:

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

“Whatev, fools . . . I’m a literary ROCKSTAR. Sold more books than anyone else in the world.”

What I’m NOT saying is “gone are the good ole’ days,” and “they don’t’ write ‘em like they used to,” because I’ve read just as many nowadays amazing books as I have old time classics.

But no more classic bashing. At least not on my lawn!

What do you think of the classics? 

What can be said against them? Which are your favorites?

A King in a Court of Writers

One of my favorite writers I’ve met is Larry Enright, the author of Four Years From Home.

He’s funny and charming and also the uncontested mob-boss of puns … you heard right, he owns puns, carries them around in his back pocket, and nails you on the head with one with such striking accuracy you can’t help but laugh out loud. He’s also a kind man with a great singing voice and a hilarious alter ego named Sir Nigel Wigglebottom who has serious discussions about serious literature.

I bet you’re wondering why everyone’s in a buzz this weekend, aren’t you? Wondering about the excited chatter? The crowds murmuring in anticipation? The balloons? The picnics? The parades? Ok, maybe not parades. But if you want in on the scoop, we’re all excited because Larry Enright just released a book!! In fact, everyone has their copy of A King in a Court of Fools except you! Not only that, but he’s here on my site today with a fantastic introduction to said book. Ladies and Gents, I give you Sir Nigel Wigglebottom … er, I mean … Larry Enright:

The Year is 2056

The year is 2056. Much has changed in the neighborhood of Caswell Drive in the hundred years since Tom Ryan lived there. The expansive forest at the end of the street has been developed to the point where there is little of it left. Most of the 1950s houses have either been demolished or rebuilt. Construction has begun on a convenience store where the Ryan house once stood. It is indeed a very different place from when Tom Ryan and the Caswells grew up there.

During the course of the excavation of what used to be the side yard of their home, several interesting artifacts were uncovered — a BB rifle, a partially decomposed giant turkey dinner, and a composition notebook. Specialists in archaeological restoration were immediately called in from the Carnegie Institute to begin the process of bringing these important artifacts of the 50s back to their original condition.

These specialists have been able to restore the cover of the book, thought by historians to be the only remaining copy of the legendary work, the Book of Tom, the most-quoted compendium of knowledge and history from that time period. Sir Nigel Wigglebottom, ageless historian and book reviewer has been quoted as saying that the Book of Tom is the period’s sole work of significance pertaining to the fabric of modern society. He has also been quoted as saying that the Captain Midnight Decoder Ring was used to break the German’s secret code during the Battle of the Bulge.

We are privileged to be able to show you the exclusive image of the cover of the Book of Tom and one excerpt from it, transcribed from Tom Ryan’s barely decipherable handwriting by the noted handwriting expert, Arnold Q. Palmer, inventor of the Palmer Handwriting method and distant relative of the noted professional golfer. So without further ado or adon’t, here is the cover.

As you can see, there is a rather explicit warning about reading it, similar to the curse on King Tut’s tomb. We didn’t lose any workers getting it open, but several poundings at the dig site have been reported. Note in particular the underlining of the words “Stop now.” This was a typical 1950s form of emphasis not present in 21st century writings, absolutely verifying its authenticity.

Here is the excerpt we have been given permission to share with you. It should be noted that there is some dispute about its authenticity. One side of the argument says it was written by Tom’s youngest brother, Harry from his remembrances of sneaking into Tom’s room and reading his book. The other side says that Tom actually wrote it in such a way to make you think he was Harry. You be the judge.

A reading from the Book of Tom:

There are three places you never want to be caught dead: at the Isaly’s without a quarter, downwind when Big Bob is farting, and anywhere near Sister Concepta’s office.

We didn’t get a story about puddles that afternoon. We got something much different. Mrs. Baxter had just opened her storybook to read to us when Sister Del Rey, the school disciplinarian appeared out of nowhere at the classroom door. Mrs. Baxter closed her book and stood up, smiled and nodded to the expressionless nun. I liked Mrs. Baxter. I wasn’t so sure about Sister Del Rey though. She never smiled. She never frowned. She never laughed. She was never angry. Tom said she was a robot Sister with super powers that the nuns had gotten from the Sears catalog. When her robot eyes looked around the room, I knew she was there for me.

First, she pointed at me, and the desks around mine slid away, leaving me by myself. Then her hand turned palm upward and she curled her long knuckly finger back, yanking me out of my desk and almost knocking over my milk. I stood, arms frozen at my sides. I couldn’t move. When she turned her hand again and pointed to a spot at her feet, an invisible force grabbed me and pulled me forward across the floor until I was standing beside her. She looked down at me, and without a word walked out. I followed. What else could I do? Sam, Kate, Mary, and even Tom couldn’t resist, and one by one she collected us, and marched us down to the principal’s office.

Sister Concepta. Just say the name and it strikes fear in the heart of the bravest of the brave. The waiting room outside her office smelled old and had the most uncomfortable wooden chairs for us to sit in. The room had two doors — one that went back to the school secretary Mrs. Apple’s desk and freedom, and the other leading to Sister’s inner sanctum and certain doom. Both were closed. Three of the walls in the waiting room were white painted wood panels with windows above. Sister Concepta’s wall was faded yellow plaster covered with portraits of the principals before her at Saint Catherine’s. The blinds had been drawn on the two sets of windows that looked into other offices, but between the secretary’s desk and waiting room they were open so Mrs. Apple could keep an eye on us. I waved to her and she waggled her finger at me.

Tom pulled me back into my seat. “Sit down, Harry.”

“Why does Sister Concepta want to see us?”

Mary shushed. “Keep quiet or you’ll get us all in trouble.”

Sam shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re already in trouble, big trouble.”

Mary shushed us again. “Listen.”

It was Frankie Marx. He was in Sister Concepta’s office. “It’s all their fault my shoes are ruined, and when I tell my father…”

“He’s ratting us out,” Tom said. “We need a plan. We have to stick together on this.”

I got down off my chair and peeked through the blinds into one of the other offices. There was Sister Del Rey staring at me from her desk. She raised her finger, but before she could fire it at me, I let go of the blind, ran back to my seat, and hid behind Tom.

Kate was trying to straighten out a crease in her skirt, but wasn’t having much luck. She rubbed her palms across it over and over. “We should just tell.”

Tom looked up to make sure Mrs. Apple wasn’t watching and whispered, “Tell what?”

Sam gave up on prying loose a piece of gum someone had stuck to the underside of his chair. “Does anyone have a piece of paper? I’m going to write my last will and testament.”

Kate was rubbing her skirt so hard she was going to wear a hole in it. “We should tell her the truth, Tom.”

“And squeal? No way.”

Mary’s face scrunched up in that funny way she did when she knew she was right. “But he started it.”

Mrs. Apple heard her and looked up, and we instantly became statues in different poses in a game of 1-2-3 Red Light. She went back to reading her book. I whispered, “Green light.”

“He started it; we’ll finish it, but no squealing.” Tom was the king, and the king had spoken.

Mary sat up straight. “What was that?”

We all turned around toward Sister Concepta’s door. There was a grinding, whirring noise, then a creak and a chunk. There it was again.

Tom knew what it was. “It’s a robot machine that chews up kids and spits them into the wastebasket.”

Sam hid behind the chair back. “If I don’t make it out alive, Harry gets my Roy Face.”

Tom didn’t like that at all. “You said the Roy Face card was mine, and Vernon Law, too.”

“That was when you were sitting on me, and besides, he’s the only Pirate Harry likes.”

“You little welsher.”

“I know you are, but what am I?”

Mary looked like she was going to cry. “I don’t hear Frankie any more. I don’t like this. Why didn’t he come out yet?”

“It’s a one way door,” Tom whispered. “No one ever comes back, at least not alive.”

Footsteps, big heavy footsteps were coming closer toward the door from the other side.

Kate had squeezed herself together in a little ball. “I have to go.”

“Tommy, did Sister Concepta eat Frankie’s brain so he can’t talk anymore?”

“Frankie doesn’t have a brain, Harry.”

“Then how does he talk?”

Something clanked up against the door, something metal, and the doorknob started to move.

Tom was the first to turn around and sit up straight. “We’re dead ducks. Turn around. Don’t look into her eyes or you’ll turn to stone.”

We followed his lead, sitting like statues with our hands in our laps. The door creaked slowly open. Yellow light from inside Sister Concepta’s office spilled out into the waiting room, and the shadow of a giant robot nun inched across the floor under our chairs.

“Line up and come inside now, children.” The shadow moved back into her office.

Thank you for taking the time to read this excerpt from the newly released A King in a Court of Fools, the prequel to the best seller Four Years from Home.

About the book: A King in a Court of Fools, originally published as a serial novel, is Larry Enright’s second published work. It is humorous, nostalgic fiction about kids growing up in the 1950s and has been already enjoyed by thousands, ages ten through ninety-one. It is available in both eBook and paperback from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Click for details to Purchase or sample A King in a Court of Fools.

About the author: Larry Enright was born to Irish Catholic first-generation immigrants and raised in Pittsburgh. After college, he moved to the Philadelphia area where for the past 40 years he has filled his life with many careers including musician, teacher, programmer, researcher, and writer. He has written three other novels, including the best-selling Four Years from Home. Visit Larry Enright’s site.

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