Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Adversaries, opponents, archenemies, nemeses

Ever since I went to see Frost/Nixon a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about adversarial relationships. (In fiction, of course.) The movie is brilliant all around, and of course, the focus is on a series of confrontations between David Frost and Richard Nixon. Each is trying to get the best of the other, each trying to come out on top. But only one of them can win. They are two very different people, yet also similar in ways, too. They both want to be in the spotlight of their circle. They both crave "ratings" of a sort. They're both able to captivate other people; they're both charismatic. And though it seems like Nixon should be able to easily win in this confrontation, Frost, in the end, has equal strength.

That’s what makes for a worthy opponent--someone who is equally strong, or witty, or what-have-you--and I think that often lies in the similarities between two adversaries rather than their differences. Some amount of sympathy for the other is necessary, too. In Frost/Nixon, we can see that Frost does feel for Nixon by the end, and even that Nixon sympathizes with Frost. We couldn’t have had James Reston opposite Nixon because Reston didn’t see Nixon as human; to him, Nixon was purely bad. And we couldn’t have had Frost opposite Jack Brennan because Brennan saw Frost as a joke.

It works the same way in any story, I think. There has to be equal strength, wit, intelligence, and each has to be able to see the other as a person--at least a little bit. Vulnerabilities and flaws in counterpoint to strengths and attributes make characters more interesting and complex, whether they are protagonists or antagonists. The Dark Knight also sparked this thought last summer, during that scene when the Joker outlines how he and Batman aren't so different deep down. (Which is an admittedly chilling thought.)

Anyone else have great examples of worthy adversaries in books? Harry and Voldemort, obviously. And I’d say the king and queen of Attolia have one that’s breathtaking (and romantic, too!). Blair and Serena in Gossip Girl? Who else?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Over the weekend, I became fascinated by the reactions to the panel on book publishing at South by Southwest. It seems to have caused quite the uproar. Here are a few of the reactions that caught my eye:

They all bring up interesting and valuable points. Yet, everything seems to focus more on the marketing and selling of the books, rather than their creation. Obviously marketing and selling are important, and I’m interested in both of those things. But frankly, what I’d love to hear and talk more about is how finding and creating stories is evolving. Yes, the new media is connecting books and authors and readers, which is essentially the business of publishing, and we need to explore it more and never stop exploring and pushing boundaries.

But how do editors and authors use all of this new available stuff before there’s a finished product? After all, editors aren’t gatekeepers. Ok, sure, we have to say “no” to things, but that isn’t what we like doing. We like saying yes. We like finding an author, a voice, a story that completely blows us away. I want to be able to help give kids and teens stories that help them live, and think, and cope, and laugh, and have opinions, and make choices. I want to find writers who have meaningful things to say and to help them say it and put it out in the world in the best possible way. I want to help them make their ideas and words shine. I want to read good books. Whatever formats “book” comes to mean. That's why I wanted to be an editor, and why I love being one, and I think that passion and a critical eye are always going to be valuable commodities.

The stories that I find sparkling and brilliant might not be the same ones another editor is attracted to. And I might not connect with one that another editor finds irresistible. But we’re all working to get the stories we believe in out there, because there are so many different readers in the world. Are new media tools best used by us to find the writers we connect with, too, then?

The conversations about “new think” have mostly revolved around adult book publishing, but I’d love to see more about children’s and YA publishing. After all, that audience is the one that's truly going to bring in the next era of reading, aren’t they?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Things I Learned in Hawaii

I'm still just a tad too jetlagged to write coherently about the two topics I've been mulling. So instead, here, in no particular order, are things I learned in Hawaii.

* Even overcast rainy-ness seems glorious at 70 degrees on a tropical island when you've left a foot of snow behind on a not-so-tropical island.

* Pineapples grow OUT OF THE GROUND. Out of the ground, I tell you! And here I was, thinking my whole life, that they grew from trees. They are bromeliads, which may be one of the coolest words, but strangest plants around.

* There is a delicacy called shaved ice. It is what I'd call a snow cone. Except way better. And you can get condensed milk drizzled on top, which at first sounds like it could be bad, but it is so, so good!

* It seems I'm on an unintentional SCBWI-Obama tour. The last one I did in '08 was in Chicago, just weeks after the election. Now Honolulu, where I got to see the condo building where Obama's grandma lived, the school he went to, and the Baskin Robbins where he worked. So I guess I need Boston and DC speaking engagements before I've collected all towns Obama has called home?

* I get lost in the middle of Hawaiian words. So getting around for five days sounded a little like this: "Oh, we need to go down Kala...mumblemumble to Lili'o... that L street...." Also, there are apparently no B's in Hawaiian!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Where I've Been

Post have been scant because I was getting ready to go to SCBWI-Hawaii.

But now that I've returned, a few things have been brewing, so I'll get back on track.