Friday, July 24, 2009

Retreating to Write

Sometimes, no matter how enthusiastic you are about the book you want to write, life gets in the way. Distractions from other (paying) work and stress about family crises get in the way of creativity - not to mention in the way of time to write! So this summer I decided to take some time off for a one-woman writing retreat.

I headed down to Wyoming to combine writing time with a few necessary visits to my chiropractor. The drive went well, I had all my reference materials and all my plotting notebooks, I felt inspired and excited. And when I arrived and set up in my distraction-free workspace, I discovered two things: the air conditioning was dead, and that part of Wyoming was on track for near-record-breaking temperatures. Oh - and the air conditioning repair people were booked solid due to the temperatures and the fact that most people had neglected their air conditioning repairs until the summer heat got to be a really big problem.

The idea of my writing retreat had been to get away from distractions. To my surprise, heat can be as much of a distraction as other work and stress. When you feel as if you're melting away at 85 degrees in your office (yes, I got a room thermometer to confirm just how hot it was), it's hard to concentrate on the fates of your characters. Fortunately my husband (who'd been the cause of some of the stress, and work, and other previous distractions) pulled some strings from afar and arranged for an air conditioning repairman to come work some magic later today to give me some cool air. Ah, if only I could wave my wand, say Reparo! and do the job myself. But clearly, not attending Hogwarts has left me at a disadvantage here. So I shall just keep my fingers crossed and hope that the repairman has more practice with Reparo, and that the house will cool down by evening.

Oh, and I should add that I'd intended for my book to take place in the fall, but I'm beginning to think that setting it in the spring, with the threat of summer heat coming on, will be a more intense time of year. After all, you can light fires, pile on extra clothes, pad yourself with newspapers, and find shelter to stay warm in winter. There's a limit to how many clothes you can take off in the heat, and you'll still feel wilted and sweaty and cranky. See? My writing retreat has yielded results already.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Missing ALA - particularly the YALSA BBYA discussion

Many friends and colleagues are in Chicago for the ALA Annual Conference this weekend. I'm stuck at home this year, consoling myself with progress on my new novel and happy anticipation of attending the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in a couple of days. 

But I'm also worrying about the intense discussions going on about whether YALSA will disband the Best Books for Young Adults list and create, instead, a popular reader's choice list selected from online votes instead of face-to-face discussion. I know that lists come and go, and are often reincarnated under new names - one of my books was named an ALA Recommended Book for Reluctant Young Adult readers shortly before that list was abandoned, to be replaced by the newer Quick Picks list. 

Quick Picks is definitely pithier as a title, but both lists were connected by the fact that librarians actually read a collection of books and debated their virtues before compiling the list. The situation is different when a reader's choice list is decided by popularity instead of quality, and even less rigorous when any member can simply post virtual comments from their computer work station.

I'm glad to see reviewers and bloggers posting their opinions (nearly all opposing the plan to disband the BBYA list), but I'm dismayed that the YALSA Executive Committee would suggest eliminating the BBYA Committee without asking the membership its opinion. This is a change that would have a powerful impact on the way librarians choose which books they can buy for their collections within their budgetary constraints. Inclusion in the BBYA list can boost exposure for less well-publicized books and can lead to those titles appearing on state lists and reaching a much larger readership. 

I hope librarians and authors are speaking out against this plan, loudly and clearly, to every YALSA board member they encounter in Chicago. Popularity is nice, but having a list where quality counts seems as if it would be a hands-down winner in terms of usefulness. Right now I wish I were in Chicago so I could speak out against this plan, and speak up for the important principles of transparency in committee decisions and quality in list selection.