Scrambled-Brain Ramble

We're in the middle of Summer 2008 Sales Conference now, which means meetings. Presentations. Worry about whether the sales reps like your books. Extra worry if they don't like your covers. Constant conversations, lunches, dinners. And trying to do regular work on top of that. I've been sending out letters requesting blurbs for my kickass Japanese martial-arts novel -- Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, by Nahoko Uehashi -- and that's going well, fingers crossed. (I described this book at Sales Conference today as "Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 meets Ursula K. LeGuin by way of Bruce Lee" -- which still doesn't quite do it justice, I'm thrilled to say.) Also editing Fall 2008 novels; and trying to remember I have an SCBWI presentation to write. Urgh.

I opened the first half of my September/October SQUIDs tonight (after America's Next Top Model -- and how glad am I that Heather is still in the running? I can't see her winning -- I pick, let's see, Lisa -- but in the meantime, yay for socially awkward intelligent girls!). I get some very good submissions, so thank you, everyone who's sent stuff along. The trend du this month is picture book manuscripts about children missing overseas relatives in the military. Actually this is a trend most all the time, now that I think of it, as there's usually at least one in each batch, but I've read three already this round. . . . It's tricky publishing, because goodness knows what will be happening with the war in Iraq by the time these manuscripts would be illustrated and ready to go; but as we have soldiers overseas even in times of putative peace, it's always a sadly relevant topic.

Finally, your bit of acid-tongued criticism/thought-provoking essay of the week: Wonder Bread, by Melvin Jules Bukiet (someone on child_lit referred the list to this, to give credit where it is due). Bukiet rips apart writers of what he refers to as "Brooklyn Books of Wonder": Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, Myla Goldberg, Dave Eggers, Alice Sebold (who does not actually live in our fair borough) -- and takes some swipes at YA literature along the way:
Two other kinds of books have children as protagonists. The first are serious
novels by serious writers. Beginning in the postwar era with William Golding’s
Lord of the Flies, this category includes David Grossman’s See Under: Love and
The Book of Intimate Grammar and Steven Millhauser’s Edwin Mullhouse. The second group is made up of so-called young-adult novels that ostensibly face “issues” but pull punches for their tender audience. Like many YA novels, which are
constructed for a pedagogical market, the BBoWs insist on finding a therapeutic
lesson in their dark material.

Some of his criticism of the so-called BBoWs is justified; other bits seem unfair and inconsistent to me -- Bee Season, for instance, hardly has a happy, therapeutic ending, and he misses the larger cultural point of Kavalier and Clay. But I was fascinated by his conclusion:
So what’s so terribly wrong with all this? BBoWs are benign and smart and claim
important antecedents (Krauss’s pantheon, Auster’s nods to Borges and Calvino,
Foer’s echoes of Günter Grass before the latter’s recent . . . um . . .
awkwardness), and some are stunning prose stylists (Eggers and Chabon and
Krauss) who clearly have literary talent to spare. That’s precisely why their
books are more insidious than simpler genre novels wherein people manage to
triumph over trauma. In fact, trauma’s never overcome. That’s what defines it.
Your father is dead, or your mother, and so are most of the Jews of Europe, and
the World Trade Center’s gone, and racism prevails, and sex murders occur. What
is, is. The real is the true, and anything that suggests otherwise, no matter
how artfully constructed, is a violation of human experience.

He is, again, right to some extent -- what is, is, and is never fully overcome. But what is also goes on -- people go on, life goes on -- and hope is born anew with that continuation. Mr. Bukiet could call that thought sentimental, but it's as real and true as the deaths, and suggesting that life does not go on after trauma, that some recovery or good things do not happen, is equally a violation of human experience, and a graver one, because it denies that hope. Your thoughts?

I am now going to take my scrambled brains and turn them sunny side up in bed. Good night and good wishes to all of you.