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Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online

Likely Stories

A Booklist Blog
Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 3:45 pm
In Memoriam: Frances Foster
Posted by: Gillian Engberg
Frances Foster

Frances Foster

It’s with great sadness that we join the community of mourners for editor Frances Foster, who passed away last Sunday at age 83, following a long illness. During her 50-year career in children’s publishing, Frances shaped and nurtured the work of a remarkable and eclectic roster of talents, including Leo Lionni, Phillip Pullman, Kate Banks, and Peter Sís. This week, I revisited some favorite books that she helped bring into the world. (Here are a few that I just looked at: Louis Sachar’s Newbery Medal-winning HolesPeter Sís’ multi-award-winning The Walland the luminous and powerful Planting the Trees of Kenya, by Claire A. Nivola.)

I’ve also been revisiting the few conversations with Frances that I am fortunate to have had over the years. The first one was not long after I began working at ALA in 1998, as an assistant editor at Book Links magazine. In addition to speaking about young readers and their books, Frances also spoke about herself as a young reader—and as a young person, in general. Among many other things, I learned about her adventures as an English language teacher in Europe as a very young woman, before she entered publishing, and I learned about her profound interest in others’ stories, including my own. What might have been business as usual for Frances felt like a transformative moment of mentoring for me; her whole-hearted intelligence, sly humor, and gracious generosity made a deep impression that continues to guide how I read and recommend books, and how I listen to—and learn about—others. That’s just one personal memory of Frances. We invite you to join in and share your own remembrances—or tributes to her influential work. And as plans for a memorial service are announced, we’ll update this post with information. For now, Frances’ family asks that any donations in her memory go to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, Mass. 01002.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 8:42 am
Hostile Questions: Marcus Sedgwick
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

HOSTILE LOGOIt’s just a couple weeks before Marcus Sedgwick accepts the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. It’s a pretty sweet deal: your books get these neat foil dealies and you get to take home a glass — well, I don’t know what to call it. It’s a thing. A glass thing. Perhaps they should rename the award to The Glass Thing?

Anyhoo, what did Mr. Sedgwick do to deserve such unusual glassware? He wrote a historical-novel-in-reverse called Midwinterblood. I know, it sounds brilliant, but I have a theory. The Youth Media Awards are always announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, so isn’t it possible that Mr. Sedgwick wrote this book for the sole purpose that the title would worm its way into the minds of Midwinter-ing Printz  Committee members so that they rubber-stamped it like glassy-eyed Manchurian Candidates? Isn’t it possible we are all victims to a massive conspiracy by a foreign interloper? That’s right, Sedgwick isn’t even American.

And to think, he almost got away with it. The clever little bastard.

The best picture we had on file.

       The best picture we had on file.

Just who do you think you are?

I think I’m a 46-year-old British writer with a liking for red wine and the films of Stanley Kubrick amongst other things, but somehow I also think I’m a 17-year-old dude who plays bass in a garage punk band. There is no evidence for this whatsoever, any more than there is that I have always felt like I’m about 72, even when I was 12. I hope I’m not getting any weird looks now – I believe we all have this feeling; who else might I have been? Who else could I be? Isn’t that one of the reasons we like to read? So we can become a thousand-year-old telepathic go-go dancing cat living in another galaxy? If no one has written this book yet, please could they?

In summary, I have no idea who I am; I’m certainly not the person I often find myself describing when invited to speak about being a writer. It’s odd that other people always seem to know exactly who you are. Or think they do.

Where do you get off?

Well now, that would be telling. I seriously don’t think I should talk about that here, on the Booklist blog. I mean, this is a classy place, right? But I could perhaps mention other forms of mind-altering behavior, such as writing. Because this is an interview about writing, isn’t it? It isn’t? Oh. Well, anyway, I don’t do drugs because that whole thing is incredibly boring. And people talking about it is even more boring.

If you take even a few minutes to look around, it rapidly becomes obvious that the whole world is a spectacularly strange mind-bump anyway. And as a writer you get to pick and choose the freakiest drugs in the candy store. And then, rather than ending up as a burned-out, bankrupt bore with ruined health, you get to turn these things into stories, for which there’s even the slim possibility you might get paid. So that’s how I get off. But I’m not letting on where.

midwinterbloodWhat’s the big idea?

The big idea is linked to the above. It seems that the world falls into two kinds of people; those who think the world falls into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. And of those that do, the world falls into two kinds of people; those who seemed interested in the universe into which they have been deposited, and those who don’t look further than their toenails. As a writer, you are always being asked what’s the most important trait to have, and BEING INTERESTED in the world is right up there with good typing skills and a sassy agent. It’s probably the most depressing thing in the world when you meet someone who simply has no desire to look around, to understand himself or herself, or anyone else for that matter, or, in the loosest sense of the word, to explore. Note, these kinds of people tend not to be readers. That’s a generalization of course, but the world falls into two kind of people; those that… Oh yeah. Sorry.

What is your problem, man?

How long have we got? Do you want a list? I could draw you a picture if that makes things clearer, or maybe I could do a matrix diagram, like those that the incredibly-intelligent and not-at-all-patronizing people who work in advertising use to work out how to sell us stupid people rubbish stuff we don’t need. Matrix diagrams (potential for unlimited harm..!?) are dumb because they try to make the world simple. The world isn’t simple, it’s very complicated, but that’s not my big problem. My problem is that many people seem to think the world can be simplified; black/white, good/bad, Coke/new Coke, when the truth is way more complex than that. It would be like trying to classify everyone in the world as falling into two types of people; those that… Oh, yeah. Right. Sorry.

My other big problem seems to be using the phrases ‘seem to’ or ‘seems to’ because I haven’t got the nerve to say what I actually think.

Haven’t you done enough?

Yes and no. I’ve probably done too much of some things. I guess you know what I’m talking about. But I haven’t done enough of the things that really matter to me, and writing is one of those. The very best part about being a writer is the time when you are putting words next to each other, trying to find an interesting and original and good way of doing that. When it’s going well, it feels very, very nice. I don’t get to have that experience anywhere near often enough – and actually I don’t think it would be possible to. So in the meantime I will go on, trying to ‘fail better’ as Samuel Beckett put it. But I’ll stop doing the other stuff. Thanks for pointing it out.

Thursday, June 5, 2014 11:58 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Claire of the Sea Light
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

With just a few weeks to go until two of the six Carnegie Medal for Excellence shortlist titles are announced as winners, this week’s BTT features one of the three fiction offerings: Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light (Knopf). Reviewer Vanessa Bush writes that the book’s interlocking stories “flow beautifully one into another, all rendered in the luminous prose for which Danticat is known.”

Heading to ALA Annual Conference? Find out in person if Danticat, or any of your other favorite shortlist authors, will be taking home one of this year’s prizes at the Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction presentation on Saturday, June 28 at 8 p.m. at Caesar’s Palace. Come for the announcement, stay for the dessert and drinks reception! Buy your tickets here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014 10:30 am
Book Trailer Thursday: The Good Girl
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Mystery Month We’ve reached the end of our #MysteryMonth of Book Trailer Thursdays, but not before we go out on a creepy note. Rebecca Vnuk says that Mary Kubica’s debut thriller, The Good Girl (Harlequin MIRA), “will have readers guessing what’s really going on until the final pages.” In the case of this trailer, it’s the final polaroid we’re waiting for–though that doesn’t really answer any questions either, does it?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 12:19 pm
A tribute to Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
Posted by: Donna Seaman

As news of Maya Angelou’s passing quickly spread, we find ourselves contemplating her tremendous accomplishments and universal resonance. The list of awards bestowed upon poet, writer, performer, professor, and activist Maya Angelou in recognition of her groundbreaking work and commanding persona is long and distinguished. Angelou received The National Medal of Freedom from President Obama and the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community,  as well as more than 30 honorary degrees.

Image of Dr. Maya Angelou, credit Dwight


Her first memoir,  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)  is a landmark work, and the entire story of Angelou’s life reads like a bluesy saga of a heroic and creative survivor. A regal six-feet-tall and known around the world for her distinctive voice, Angelou had been plunged into silence as a girl after a shocking trauma, and was restored to herself by the power of poetry, an experience that carried her forward as she toured the world performing “Porgy and Bess,” joined the Harlem Writers Guild and the civil rights movement, and wrote a stream of essay collections, books for children, more than a dozen poetry collections, and many more memoirs, including Mom & Me & Mom (2013), a profound chronicle of her relationship with her mother. Maya Angelou will continue to raise our spirits through her indelible works, many of gravitas, others quite mischievous, including her saucy poem, “Phenomenal Woman,” which begins:

“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.”

Indeed. Rest in peace, Dr. Maya Angelou.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014 7:10 am
The Power of Libraries Booth at Book Expo
Posted by: Rebecca

Lucky enough to be attending Book Expo America conference in NYC this week? Be sure to stop by the Power of Libraries, in booth #1242 (naturally, come say hello to us at the Booklist booth, as well, booth #1043!).

There are five library consortia from across the country that are collaborating on this theme.

The groups are: Amigos (TX), Califa (CA), LYRASIS (GA), MLS (MA), and RAILS (IL)
Collectively they represent over 6,000 libraries of all types across the United States.

Each of these groups have statewide e-book platforms, and they seek to strengthen the library-publisher relationship, especially in this time of great flux in the e-book marketplace. Some of their goals with this Power of Libraries campaign are to:

Engage in dialogue with authors and publishers on the importance of e-books in libraries, and voice current concerns held by librarians and patrons while respecting the views and interests of authors and publishers.

Demonstrate the collective buying power of libraries in the e-book market.

Keep letting publishers know that readers use libraries AND buy books.

Reinforce the fact that librarians have the expertise to bring readers to new books that they may eventually buy.

Take some time away from the galley grab of BEA and spend a moment talking to Veronda Pitchford and the Power of Libraries team. They’ll be distributing a fun comic strip showcasing librarians as superheroes.  (Preview panel below, click for best image.) Let them know Booklist sent you!


Tuesday, May 27, 2014 12:24 pm
Gay Romance Comes Out at the Romantic Times Convention
Posted by: Pat Henshaw

Rt Booklovers conventionGLBT romance came out of the erotica closet at the Romantic Times convention in New Orleans in May 2014 to stand as its own entity, a legitimate romance subgenre.

RT2014_NewOrleansCanadian GLBTQ romance author Heidi Belleau explained, “Until recently, queer characters in books were either serial killers or dead people.”  Having them now be the heroes of the story, gay authors agreed, is refreshing and long overdue.

Both publishers and authors at the RT convention said that two events have caused the upsurge in gay romance readership: the emergence of e-readers and the social climate in the U. S. E-readers have made it possible for people who read books in public to read whatever they want without comment from people around them.  Also the growing acceptance of gay marriage and of gays in general has made readers curious and willing to explore the subgenre.

With over a half dozen sessions at the RT convention about GLBT romance, including panels on what a gay hero is like and why GLBTQ might be readers’ next favorite subgenre, both editors and authors were excited about the enthusiastic response of reader attendees. In fact, author Suzanne Brockmann, the mother of a gay son, exhorted authors and readers to become crusaders for gay romance because the time is ripe for the subgenre to branch out and claim as many new readers as possible. Dreamspinner Press added to reader excitement at the conference by passing out cards entitling readers to one free e-book at their website.

Authors Damon Suede, Heidi Cullinan, and K.A. Mitchell.

Authors Damon Suede, Heidi Cullinan, and K.A. Mitchell.

Authors of gay romances spoke about the overwhelming response to their work, giving poignant examples of emails and reactions at book signings and readings. Author Damon Suede talked about how touchy-feely his fans are.  He recounted a woman at one of his readings who stood beside him with her elbow gently touching him.  The bookstore owner asked Damon if he wanted the woman to be removed, but Damon is used to his fans’ visceral response to him and assured the owner that the woman’s touch didn’t bother him.

Amy Lane, another GLBT romance author, said that often her fans will cry when they meet her because something she wrote moved them.  In fact, she added, “People tell me that some of my most injured characters are their friends or their brothers or the lover they had to leave before they fell into a pit of despair, and then they thank me for the happy ending.” All the authors had stories of how their novels had helped readers because for the first time they saw gay characters enjoy happiness and fulfillment, something that other plotless, sex-riddled erotica is missing.

Fans, waiting outside the Marriott ballroom for an autograph session.

Fans, waiting outside the Marriott ballroom for an autograph session.

Who is buying gay romances?  Both publishers and authors agree that the audience is 60 percent female and 40 percent male readers. The larger picture of GLBT buyers break down into three large groups.  Anne Regan of Dreamspinner press says that by far the biggest sales come from their online site where they have 26,000 regular users.  Editors and publishers from Riptide, Loose ID, and Samhain agree. The next biggest segment of buyers come from the online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Riptide publisher Rachel Haimowitz says the third big buyer is libraries that are starting to shore up their gay fiction sections.  Anne Regan, who heads the YA and NA Harmony imprint of Dreamspinner agrees.

The editors and publishers also discussed what they would like to see for their GLBT romance fiction lines in the future.  Kierstin Cherry of Loose ID says they are looking for more f/f (female/female) fiction including full-figured heroines as well as more interracial gay romances.  Cris Brashear says Samhain is also looking for more f/f fiction and multicultural gay stories.

From authors and publishers to fans, everyone agreed that GLBT romance fiction is the wave of the future.

Friday, May 23, 2014 8:47 am
Hostile Questions: Rainbow Rowell
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

HOSTILE LOGOWe at Hostile Questions HQ have been tapping the phones of thousands of authors since we founded our operation in 2012 and it’s time to go public with yet another bombshell. In March 2013, General Rowell (Codename: “Rainbow”) launched a frontal assault against the young-adult world with the Printz Honor-winning (and also Everything-Else-winning) Eleanor & Park. Then, in September–a mere six months later–she hit our flank with the celebrated Fangirl. We crumpled before this two-pronged blitzkrieg.

What we have uncovered is shocking. Even as we struggle to reassemble our shattered YA universe, Rowell is plotting to release a relentless six books in the latter half of 2014: Eleanor & Fangirl, Fangirl & Park, Fanpark, Parkgirl, The Fault in our Parks, and Eleanor and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Do you not have a shred of decency, Rowell? Not a single shred?!?

Rowell relaxing and pondering 17 more books.

          Not seen: hands, furiously typing.

Just who do you think you are?

Is that a mean way of asking if “Rainbow” is my real name? Because it is.

My mother said I could change it when I turned 18, and I was like, “I’m totally going to change it to Sarah with an ‘h.’ I’ll show you, you misguided hippy.

And then I turned 18 and realized that my friends would mock me if I asked them to start calling me “Sarah.” I’ve been stuck with Rainbow ever since.

I think that 90 percent of the people who read my books assume that “Rainbow” is a pen name, which makes me think about what sort of person would choose to be called “Rainbow”… It’s not the pen name you’d choose if you wanted people to take you seriously, you know? (I always think of that woman in Harold and Maude, who introduces herself as “Sunshine Doré.”)

I suppose I’ve mostly made peace with it now. It’s hard to imagine having a name I’d have to share with other people.

Where do you get off?

Omaha, usually.

I was born here, and I mostly grew up here, and I’ve never seriously thought about leaving.

When I started writing books, I decided to set them in Omaha because Omaha almost never shows up in popular culture. And when Omaha or Nebraska does show up, it’s usually as a punchline. (Maybe these are just funny-sounding words, and I don’t get the joke because I’m from here.)

I’ve always liked the way John Waters keeps telling stories about Baltimore. I’d like to keep telling stories about Omaha.

Though, as I typed that, I realized that my next book, Landline, mostly takes place in Los Angeles.

LandlineWhat’s the big idea?

Do you mean with my next book?


Landline is about a woman whose marriage is in a rough place. Her husband just took the kids to Omaha for Christmas while she stays in Los Angeles to work. As soon as she leaves, she discovers a magic phone (that’s right, I said MAGIC PHONE) that lets her communicate with him in the past.

But then she has to decide what she’s supposed to do with the phone. Is she supposed to fix her marriage from the past? Is that even possible? Or is she supposed to make sure she and her husband never get married at all?

Besides a magic phone and marital strife, this book also has lots of jokes and references to ‘70s TV shows. Also, there’s snow.

What is your problem, man?

The Sherlock hiatus.

Haven’t you done enough?

For real. I’ve had three books come out in 15 months, and I am tired.

I’m working on a novel right now, but then I’m going to take a break. I’m going to try writing the Eleanor & Park screenplay instead. (Wish me luck. I’ve never written a screenplay before.)

And then I’m going to collaborate on a graphic novel with Faith Erin Hicks – which I am SUPER excited about, because I’m a big fan of her work, and I’ve always wanted to work in comics.

Thursday, May 22, 2014 4:00 pm
2013 Nebula Awards Winners
Posted by: Sarah Grant

Nebula AwardsCongratulations to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America’s 2013 Nebula Awards winners—the best of Science Fiction and Fantasy last year. Below are the winning titles.


Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice by Ann LeckieNovella

“The Weight of the Sunrise,” by Vylar Kaftan


 “The Waiting Stars,” by Aliette de Bodard

Short Story

“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” Rachel Swirsky

Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation


Andrew Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson 

Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award

Samuel R. Delany, author of Babel 17 and The Einstein Intersection (winners of Nebula Award for 1966 and 1967 respectively)

Samuel R. Delany, author of Babel 17 and The Einstein Intersection (winners of the Nebula Award for 1966 and 1967 respectively)

Michael Armstrong

2013 Damon Knight Grand Master Award

Samuel R. Delany

2013 Special Honoree

Frank M. Robinson

Thursday, May 22, 2014 9:57 am
Book Trailer Thursday: The Three
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Mystery Month Booklist reviewer David Pitt calls horror thriller The Three (Little, Brown) a “very creepy, very effective novel,” displaying the author’s stroke-of-genius use of an oral-history format to tell the story of The Three: the mysterious, only survivors of four simultaneous worldwide plane crashes.

Tune in next week for the last remaining #mysterymonth BTT!

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Quoted material should be attributed to:
Keir Graff, Likely Stories (Booklist Online).

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