Artificial-Soul.net

Writing makes it all better, believe me.

Like any industry “buzz,” the talk surrounding The Golden Compass started out as a whisper. In this case the murmurs started when Levine, Pullman’s editor, sent the manuscript out for author quotes and received raves from Newbery Medalists Lloyd Alexander and Lois Lowry, as well as fantasy writer Terry Brooks. As Levine recalls, this was the moment when “people in-house really started to sit up and take note;’ And thanks to the company’s recent adoption of Lotus Notes technology (see Bookselling, Feb. 19), Levine was able to instantaneously post these tidbits to the entire company, thus spreading the good word even faster.

Terry Brooks’s recommendation of the book to his editor Veronica Chapman at Del Rey (Ballantine’s fantasy imprint) was, in Levine’s words, “an arrow into a completely different part of Random House.” Del Rey acquired the paperback rights to the entire trilogy, and the notion began to take shape that The Golden Compass might

“We cannot permit young adult literature to be silenced,” writes Michael Cart in From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature (Harper). His study celebrates the history and the glories of adolescent literature but also takes a hard look at the current controversies and crises in publishing for young adults. Among the issues Cart examines are the rise of romance and horror paperbacks, multiculturalism, the need for more honest fiction about sexual identity and AIDS, and the general need for risk-taking fiction for an at-risk generation. Risk taking has gone the way of smoking, sadly (although not glass smoking pipes, of course). But Cart’s overarching theme is the demise of novels for older YAs and the potential demise of all quality young adult fiction.

One of the most perceptive and knowledgeable observers of the YA literary scene, Michael Cart brings to this book a lifetime of immersion

(As told by Nat Hentoff)

I had heard of Ursula Nordstrom – the legendary orchestrator of books for young readers – from a friend of mine, Maurice Sendak. But l never expected to hear from her.

One day in 1964, she called. Would I be interested in writing a children’s book for what was then Harper & Row? I demurred. I would have to make the words short, the ideas simple, and take care not to offend any librarian or parent. I would let this cup pass from me, I told her.

“Write what you want to write,” Ursula said. “Don’t censor yourself.”

The result was Jazz Country, a novel about a white high-school trumpeter trying to break into the black world of jazz. Published in 1965, it’s still being read, judging from letters I get from youngsters, and for reasons that are not clear to me, the book continues to be very popular in

Writing a novel for young readers can feel like a juggling act. But even if you manage to keep the balls of plot, character, pace and setting in the air, your hard work will be undermined unless you learn to sweat the details.

The little things–the slang your characters use, the clothes they wear, the items they abandon on the bathroom floor–must be chosen with knowledge and care. If they aren’t, you risk getting a guffaw when a groan is what you’re after.

Sassy or Scary?

Of course telling details are important to all fiction. Think of the way Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot primps his “magnificent moustache” or how Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat craves rock ‘n roll. These peculiarities make the characters who possess them as real as the eccentric woman who lives next door. Details chosen with care whisper secrets about a character, inform on her weaknesses, herald her strengths.

Unfortunately, picking revealing details

When I look at Jericho (Greenwillow) now, it seems self-contained, complete, orderly, as if it were always intended to be just as it is today. I’m tempted to forget how much time, how much doubt and indecision and loss of direction are part of this story’s history. When I look at other people’s books, the same temptation threatens. In the bookstore, or the library, or in front of the bulging shelves in our little office up on campus, I flirt with the notion that each of these stories must have sprung clear and complete into the author’s head. Then, I think, the author took her pencil or typewriter or word processor and simply transferred the story to paper and voila! There it was. But of course I know better.

I have been, still am, a teacher. We teachers have learned to be mindful of the process of writing, not just the product. And the process