Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Nomination! A Third Printing! & 2013 Editorial Year in Review

I'm pleased to report that The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi, by Neal Bascomb, is one of five finalists for YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award!

The development of this book can be directly traced back to an SCBWI conference I attended -- Whispering Pines 2011 in Rhode Island (which was an excellent conference all around). During an off hour, I wandered into the conference center's library, and someone had left a copy of an adult book called Hunting Eichmann by Neal. I started skimming the book and immediately grew intrigued: I'd been thinking about how much I loved the narrative nonfiction in The New Yorker and how interesting and fun it would be to publish for a younger audience, and the hunt for Adolf Eichmann combined history, mystery, spywork, and Nazis in one terrific, suspenseful, high-stakes story. When I got back to New York, I reached out to Neal, proposing a YA edition of Hunting Eichmann. We embarked on a very enjoyable collaboration where we both learned a lot (me about photo research, especially -- a topic worthy of a whole blog post all its own), and the resulting book, with a awesome foiled cover by Phil Falco, came out in September. You can read the opening pages here.

While I'm posting:  I'm also pleased to announce I've ordered a third printing of Second Sight, which should be available for sale in early January. (The book is out of stock until then.) Thanks to all of you who've supported it thus far!

Finally, a quick look back at all of my 2013 books, with plenty of time left to order for Christmas (hint hint):

  • The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman: Pride & Prejudice in 1923 Chinatown!
  • The Path of Names by Ari Goelman:  Math, mysteries, mazes, magic, & even murder at a summer camp! This was named to Booklist's rolls of both Top Ten First Novels and Top Ten Religious & Spirituality Novels for Youth.
  • Zoe's Room (No Sisters Allowed) by Bethanie Deeney Murguia:  Two sisters. One room. Stuff just got real. 
  • Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg:  A gay book for the "Glee" generation, about being out, being proud, and being ready for something else. 
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth:  A "brohemian rhapsody" (Eric's phrase) about a Tuscarora Native American boy and a white Air Force kid discovering their shared love of rock music, and the complications that ensue.
  • The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb:  Hey, did you hear it was nominated for YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award?
  • The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (sequel to his excellent The Savage Fortress):  Ash Mistry, weapon of the goddess Kali, goes to Kolkata, and the city will never be the same. 
And I'm excited about all the equally great things on the docket for the new year. This will probably be my last post for 2013, as I'm leaving for my belated honeymoon (in India, in fact!) on Saturday . . . so I wish you all the very best for the holidays, and a happy new beginning to 2014!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

On Being a Real ________

My phone said the temperature was 35 degrees as I was preparing for my run in Prospect Park yesterday, so I dressed in my usual cold-weather running gear:  my thickest running socks, tights, a camisole, a running top that zipped up my neck, a windbreaker, a hat and gloves. About twenty-five minutes into the run, as I was cruising steadily down the lower drive with Beyonce lilting in my ears, a guy ran past me going the other direction, wearing only a stocking cap, a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, and shorts. He had the wiry physique and spindly calves of someone who runs every day, who probably did the New York marathon a few weeks ago and will run it again next year (one of my fondest ambitions), and I thought Wow, that guy's a real runner.

And then I thought:  Dammit, I'm out here running in 35 degree weather too. Am I imaginary? No! I'm a real runner as well!

And this got me thinking about the way we use the word "real" to connote -- what? Physical existence? Identity? Membership in a group? People talk a lot about whether or not they're "real" writers if they haven't been published, or if they don't do it every day, or if they're not writing a specific thing (books = good, blog posts = your existence is doubtful). Fandoms are riven by arguments about whether you can be a "real" fan if you haven't read all the back issues, if you only got into it after the movie, even (noxiously) if you are female. When I saw that guy in the park, I doubted my worth as a runner because I don't have the physical ability to run in shorts at 35 degrees without getting frostbite -- meaning, really, I haven't put in the time to gain that muscle tone and metabolism. But my legs pumping in their tights, my heart pounding in my chest, my hand clutching my water bottle were all as present and powerful as that young man dashing by; and I resolved then and there that I will stop dissing myself about this in future and give myself credit -- that my effort, at the least, was real and deserved respect.

Of course, since I live in children's books, I also thought of this:

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
   "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
   "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
   "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
   "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
   "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
   "I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
   "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
I don't think Reality in terms of activities can or should be conferred by someone else:  It's something you claim for yourself, and you become Real partly by claiming it. But I do find the ideas of love, effort, and endurance useful here: that while your activity or fandom is not always easy, and may in fact be quite messy or hurtful, you stay with it because you love it, because it does something good for you or the world or brings something good out of you for the world. And in the end, that love and patience, along with doing the work, are what make you Real. 

(I should add that I don't think what I'm saying holds entirely true for racial/ethnic/sexuality group identities, which have complexities and histories, and costs and benefits, far beyond mere participation in an activity or fandom. Nor is it true for anything that requires a specific accomplishment.... No matter how much I may love cheering at marathons, I can't say I'm a Real marathoner, because I haven't done one! But for activities and fandoms, this is my new standard for Real.)

And if you have all of those qualifications, and then some people tell you you aren't a Real __________, then they are the actual frauds; because part of love is generosity, the desire to see this good thing grow, and they don't have enough love in them to be a Real ________ themselves. Ignore them and go on.

By this measure, I am a Real runner, knitter, cook, yogi, writer, and editor. I do remain objectively not very good at the running, knitting, and yoga. But there is something about merely being Real that makes me feel better connected and more committed to my chosen activities--that I know I belong to them and they to me, that no one can take my Realness away from me. As Beyonce gave way to Bonnie Tyler and the sun set over the lake, the wind died down. My speed picked up. I felt again the exhilaration I discovered years ago, that I can run, that I am a runner, that this is a superpower I carry in my own two feet. And I ran out of the park, as Real as I wanted to be.