Tag Archive for Dennis Cass

James Preller Interviews . . . Lewis Buzbee: Part Two!

I’m back for Part Deux of our chat with my lovely and talented co-host this week, author Patty Duke Lewis Buzbee. (To catch up with Part One, click here.)

As a nod to tradition, let’s open the show with a brief musical interlude, which expresses in musical terms how I feel about Lewis . . .

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They don’t write songs like that anymore. Anyway Lewis, one of the things that comes through in your writing is that you love books, the physical objects themselves.

Books are unique tools. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. A CD, say, or a DVD, those are great tools, too. And have some physical pleasures to them. Even certain iPods are lovingly designed. But those objects are just mediums for the message — the sound comes from space still — if only the space in your ears. Or the movie appears on the screen, over there. But a book is the thing it imparts. You cannot separate the two. And because of this, I think, we have decided that books can be beautiful, sensual objects.

A bookseller knows this. Next time you go into a bookstore, watch the browsers. So much of how we choose a book is done with our hands. We pick it up, stroke it, turn it over, weigh it in our hands. We’re buying the thing itself.

Is your book available on Kindle?

No. Not this one. But, hey, I’m open to it.

It was significant to some viewers of Star Trek when Captain Picard pulled down a leatherbound edition of Shakespeare, or whatever it was he read. Actually, I believe he was a fan of the hard-boiled detective genre. Viewers were reassured by that vision of the technological future, which — let’s face it — frankly scares the bejeezus out of us. And of course, I have to mention our shared enthusiasm for Battlestar Galactica, where frak is a word and books are revered, treasured links to a broken past. Those scenes when Admiral Adama is reading to Laura Roslin.

Did you ever watch Hill Street Blues?

Of course. Loved that show.

There’s a great scene where one of the detectives is reading to his horse, who is quite ill. They’re in the stall together, and he’s reading to the horse from Faulkner, “another great horseman,” he says. Very moving. And of course, the final scene in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where all those people have each memorized one book, to preserve it.

It’s clear that the Kindle-monster is here to stay, and too much lamenting will do us no good. But I assert — very strongly — that the book is not going to disappear in the next five minutes.

It’s not a question, really, of either/or, for me, either books or computers, it’s a matter of both. Hey, if someone’s fearful of losing books, there’s a simple remedy. Go buy a book, turn off your damn computer, and read. Simple. World saved. Lamenting about it on Facebook does nothing. Read.

I ordered my copy of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop from Amazon.com. Does that make me a bad person?

Not at all. Listen, for years people complained about the chain stores, and the ruination . . . yadda, yadda, yadda. Truth is, chain stores have been crucial to keeping alive the literary culture, the publishing business, the diversity of the books we have available to us. The same is true of Amazon. It’s here, it’s not going away, and it does a lot of work on behalf of writers and publishers everywhere. I’m not a Luddite . . .

. . . I just happen to love books and bookstores. And I don’t believe that the bookstore will be replaced, completely, by Amazon. I mean, I still need to get out of the house now and then. And we are Americans, so shopping is what we do best. Books, more than ever, in many ways, are more current than ever. They are more widespread than ever, and there are more of them than ever. And we will want to go to bookstores to buy them.

Listen, if it gets to the point where we can do everything we need to do on a computer — and I can think of three things, off the top of my head, that you can’t do via computer — then go ahead and shoot me. Really don’t want to live in that world.

True or False: The novel is dead, literacy is dead, the computer has triumphed.

Pshaw. Not a chance. In the nineteenth century, with the advent of the bicycle, the op-eds of that day declared the death of literary culture. We would all spend so much time on our bicycles, we’d never read again.

Case in point: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Katharine Ross and that bicycle. They never read a thing in that movie.

Uh, Ms. Ross to you. And frankly, if I had a bicycle and that woman and a trusty sidekick and a loaded revolver — I’d never read again either.

Please don’t let thoughts of Katharine Ross distract you. But, gosh. Look at her . . .

We were discussing the death of the novel . . .

The novel was declared dead, once again, in 1962, I think. Before One Hundred Years of Solitude, Catch-22, and a thousand other great and important books. Humans are storytellers, we need stories. And long stories. We will build them one way or the other.

Like I said, computers are cool, but they ain’t everything. They’re just another thing. We’re a little bit obsessed right now with them — because we just invented them. We really have no idea what we’re going to do with them yet. It’s been, what, thirty years since they became user-friendly. Books have been around a lot longer than that.

And I want to say, right here, I also don’t believe the whole, “oh, we have such short attention spans” argument. People have always had short attention spans. And long ones. Right now, you know at least a dozen people who can tell you every single thing that happened on every episode of The Wire, or something else. We have huge  brains.

I think you are such a good writer. You have this clean,  direct style — it’s never, “Look at me, aren’t I clever?” I think when we read a book, it’s so important to have that feeling, to know we’re in capable hands. That this author, like a good limo driver, can take us where we need to go.

Thanks so much. The check is in the mail.

But again with the books. The writers I’ve studied and feel most drawn to are those writers who want to communicate with readers, not impress them. Even at fifteen, I knew there was no real cache in being a writer — dude, I was gonna be a rock star. But at fifteen I also felt the power of communication, what John Irving calls one genius speaking to another genius. I strive to communicate. When I want to impress you, I juggle.

Lewis! Put down the chainsaw . . .

the bowling ball . . . and the live chicken. Right now! I’m not kidding around.

Oh, they’re not for juggling.

You are a sick, twisted man. Nevertheless, I have to say, you are one of the few published authors that I can enjoy on Facebook. You don’t see it as an endless promotional loop . . . and I thank you for that.

I am so done with networking. It’s one of the great fallacies, don’t you think, of the twitterverse — somehow it will make us all rich and famous. My new motto: working without a net. Facebook is one large Post-It note. I’m just amazed that there are writers who spend so much time promoting themselves there. Shouldn’t they be writing?

In the end, for me, all the self-promotion is just so tedious. But here I am, knee-deep in bloggy blogness.  Yet I contend there’s a distinction. A reader comes here by choice. I’m giving this stuff away, folks. And I try to keep the self-promotion to a minimum, because it’s boring, borderline tacky, and I don’t think it works. But I do feel that new authors, especially, are getting the message loud and clear from publishers and friends: “You’ve got to promote yourself relentlessly! You have to get out there — and sell, sell, sell!”

Now for a commercial interruption from Dennis Cass, who has struggled with some of the same issues . . .

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My publisher suggested that I go on Facebook. And I did. But what I found, instead of a new way to pester people, was a few actual friends. And when I hang out with my friends, I’m not trying to sell to them. And I’d expect the same courtesy from my brother, Al, who is in the insurance business. I don’t want to hear about his work, either. “Al is drowning in paperwork!” — he’d sound like another author, and we don’t need that.

I love it when I’m supposed to stand up and cheer for the most minor accomplishments, too. Oh, I finished a chapter; oh, I applied for a grant. I mean, I’m happy for everyone, but seriously, it’s like doing an end-zone dance for tackling someone on 2 and 7 in pre-season. Too much chattin’, not enough chewin’.

It’s hard to talk about this without sounding a little mean-spirited. And I’m sorry for that. But . . . just do the work and shut up already. Pass along some info every once in a while, sure. But too much is a turn off.

We do live in this weird “provincialism of the contemporary.” If it wasn’t invented in the last twelve seconds, it ain’t worth it, that’s the prevailing ethic. Twitter, Facebook, all the rest, they’re so new. Next year they could be the new Pet Rock. We don’t have a clue, as a culture, what any of this new technology means, or what we’re going to do with it, or really, how it will change us.

Me, I’m going old school for the release of my next book: blimps.

Gee, I hope it’s a good year.

Uh, Mr. Preller, please step away from the jokes; someone could get hurt.

My favorite thing I ever posted as a status update on Facebook was this: Go to blogblogblog.com to read my new blog about why there are too many blogs. People actually looked it up. And it turns out there is a website — it’s weird and Japanese.

So is my dry cleaner, but that’s a story for another day. You seem alert to all the little treasures and surprises in each bookstore. You mentioned one in Vermont, Bear Pond Books, where two signs hang near the front entrance, each with an arrow pointing to a different half of the store. One sign read, FACTS; the  other, TRUTH. You had a great line about that, “I’ll let you figure out which was for Fiction and which was for Home Repair.”

With me, home repair is definitely in the fiction section. Ask my family. When something breaks in the house, my daughter says, oh, it’s okay, mom can fix it.

You obviously have great affection for booksellers of all stripes. Perhaps we could take a moment to raise a glass (don’t worry, I’m buying) . . .

. . . to the idea that, as you said in your book, “all readers should be grateful that there are people foolish enough, rash enough, courageous enough, and pig-headed enough to open bookstores.”

Here’s to idiots everywhere! The world would be awfully dull without them.

End of Part Two.

Please click here for the thrilling conclusion of “The Never-Ending Lewis Buzbee Interview” — where we (finally) talk about Steinbeck’s Ghost, unlearning the lessons of college, parenthood, Charles Dickens, Katherine Paterson, Tom Waits, favorite bookstores, Rebecca Stead, Bystander (!), and more.

Around the Horn: 6 Things & Music Video Friday

1) I thought this was very cool. Six word stories, illustrated!

2) Curious about this book.

3) This helped me rethink the opening of a new story. Nothing new under the sun, but there’s so much under the sun, it helps to get a little focus.

4) Amazing. But eight minutes long . . . is it worth it? Yes, yes, yes.

5) How to make a reader reluctant. (Give it a minute before the story starts in earnest; librarians will be especially glad they caught it.)

6) The last paragraph of this short article features an important reminder.

Thanks for the links: Stiles White via Greg Ruth, Bill Prosser, Dennis Cass, Betsy Bird, Julie Fortenberry, and, yup, my dear friend AOL.


Lastly, as this is Music Video Friday, from a band I am dying to see, “Wake Up,” by Arcade Fire. NOTE: I just realized this song is featured in the “Where the Wild Things Are” trailer, which somehow makes this portion of the post topical, rather than merely self-indulgent.

Look out below!

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Somethin’ filled up
my heart with nothin’,
someone told me not to cry.

But now that I’m older,
my heart’s colder,
and I can see that it’s a lie.

Children wake up,
hold your mistake up,
before they turn the summer into dust.

If the children don’t grow up,
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms turnin’ every good thing to

I guess we’ll just have to adjust.

With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’
I can see where I am goin’ to be
when the reaper he reaches and touches my hand.

With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’
I can see where I am goin’
With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’
I can see where I am, go-go, where I am

You’d better look out below

Friday Fun Clip

Just some nutty, creative fun on a Friday.

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Hat tip to Dennis Cass for bringing this clip to our attention.

James Preller Interviews . . . the Bloggers Behind “Literate Lives.”

WARNING: Long Post Alert!

After I began this blog, it slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t alone. There were other like-minded bloggers out there, dozens maybe. Which led me to a site called Literate Lives, hosted by a classroom teacher and a school librarian, Karen Terlecky and Bill Prosser. Karen wrote what I considered a kind, insightful review of Along Came Spider. So naturally I fell in love.

Looking around the web today, I’m continually awed by the dedicated literature-lovers out there. All those people who night after night devour the written word. The real readers who, like Bill and Karen, find no greater pleasure than to bring a child and a good book together.

As for the below, please be advised: I will now be attempting the perilous two-headed interview . . .

Okay, Bill and Karen, life wasn’t busy enough. So you started a blog. What on earth were you thinking?

Bill: When I became a librarian last year after twenty-four years of classroom teaching, I knew I wanted to try blogging about books. Around that same time, Karen casually mentioned that she was interested in starting a blog. She wondered if I wanted to team up. It was a no-brainer. I got to accomplish a goal, work with a great teacher, and cut my workload in half. Now almost a year later, we are being interviewed by James Preller.

Well, Mitzy Kafka couldn’t make it. She’s at a health spa outside of East Orange, New Jersey. And if you want to read that as “rehab,” that’s entirely up to you.

Karen: I am so glad Bill remembers the exact train of events, because my over-fifty brain has blanked out on the specifics. What I do remember was Franki and Mary Lee from A Year of Reading gently prompting me to do this. Then, another friend, Katie, started Creative Literacy. I was very motivated by her success. I’ve loved every minute of it, and I so appreciate that I share the blog with Bill.

I know when I started this blog in early May, I felt a little like Vincent Price in “The House of Usher.” I was filled with an overwhelming sense of talking to myself in an empty room.

Bill: Sometimes I still wonder why anyone cares about what I have to say. But then I’d get the one comment from an author, or parent, or friend — and I was hooked!

Karen: We were fortunate that Mary Lee and Franki decided to “launch” us at their blog. That brought some visitors to see us that we might not have otherwise had. I have to admit that once we added SiteMeter to our blog, it became an addiction for me.

Oh, I hear that. I need a daily shot of Google Analytics in my coffee.

Karen: I know people stop by, but I wish that more people would leave comments. That would make it feel more personal for me, and less like me by myself. I love the back and forth of a conversation –- sort of like this interview!

It’s all done with mirrors, Karen. I’m a lot like David Blaine that way. For me, the real revelation has been how the kidlitosphere began to open up — all sorts of different blogs, by people who cared passionately about the same things, from booksellers to editors, librarians and teachers and authors. People like Roger Sutton, Jen Robinson, Matthew Cordell, Dennis Cass, Nan Hoekstra, and on and on. I’ve found it really inspiring.

Karen: I am amazed at the connections I’ve made. Last year, shortly after Bill and I started our blog, we presented at a literacy conference here in Dublin. We met one of the bloggers whose posts I followed on a regular basis –- way fun! In addition to our group of Central Ohio Bloggers (fabulous people!), I have also had an opportunity to chat online with authors who have stopped by our blog, and even two publishers. This concept of internet connectedness is pretty amazing!

What have you learned along the way?

BIll: It’s helped me be better at finding and recommending good books to my students.

How so?

Bill: Blogs help me stay ahead of the curve. A lot of the bloggers are getting advanced copies, so I know what’s coming out, before it comes out. Even with things that are released, blogs are quicker than waiting for the monthly journals that review books. In most cases I’ve already heard of or read many of the books being reviewed because I got a heads up from somebody’s blog.

What about you, Karen?

Karen: I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer. I’m so jealous of my blogger friends who can read a book and dash off a post. I’m very critical of my own writing, and revise multiple times. It takes me at least an hour per post before I hit that “publish” button.

I saw Ariana Huffington on The Daily Show the other day –- I was panting along on the elliptical at the YMCA –- and she emphasized, “First thought, best thought.”

Huffington really believes in that “first draft of history” concept. But with a book review, there are definite responsibilities.

Karen: I think you’re right –- I wish I could get on board with Ariana’s thinking. I’m just always considering my audience. For better or worse, what I put in my blog posts is how most of the reading audience (students, parents, fellow bloggers, authors, publishers) know me as a person. I guess with that thought comes some responsibilities.

Like Uncle Ben’s line from the first Spider-Man movie, right? With great blogging powers comes great responsibility.

Karen: Bingo.

Anyway, Bill, you revealed in your first blog post that you set a goal, ten years ago, to read every Newbery winner.

Bill: I try to read the winner before it’s announced, so I can feel really smart and informed. So far I’m batting zero on that. I’ve managed to hit a few of the Honor Books.

After all those years of teaching, Bill, you decided to become a librarian. Was that a mid-life crisis? Shouldn’t you have just bought a fancy red sports car?

Bill: I hadn’t thought of the sports car. I’m still driving a minivan, zero to sixty in twenty minutes.

My wife complains that our minivan sucked the last ounce of coolness right out of her. I tell her that it isn’t true; she still has a few ounces left.

Bill: Thanks for that, now I’ll never be able to convince my teenage children that minivans are cool. When I got my Masters about 20 years ago, I looked into getting the library certificate. But at that point in my life, it was too big of a time commitment. I’ve always loved the library from when I was a kid, so it seemed a natural fit. The sports car may have been more fun, but I doubt it.

Reminds me of a favorite poem by Arnold Lobel from Whiskers & Rhymes:

Books to the ceiling, books to the sky,
My piles of books are a mile high.
How I love them!
How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.

Karen, you are a fifth-grade teacher and . . . a part-time proctologist? Do I have that right?

Karen: I’m fairly certain they’re not paying me enough if I am a part-time proctologist! The idea of that makes me laugh –- it gives a whole new twist to my beginning of the year assessments!

That’s right, I heard you can be a real pain in the assessment.

Karen: LOL! My high school daughter got quite a kick out of that last statement! Back on topic — this year, I am a full-time fifth grade teacher. This is after two years of splitting myself between jobs, teaching language arts and social studies half days, and then giving curricular support to other teachers in those two areas as well. I love the all-day community in my classroom this year. I have a fabulous class, and enjoy each moment with them.

Karen, let’s just ignore Bill for a while . . .

Bill: Hey!

. . . I was taken by how you described, in your first-ever post, your “great reading life.” It feels like this blog is an outpouring of that life, that love.

Karen: I have loved reading my entire life. I can remember being the first in line on the days the bookmobile came to our neighborhood. I had very understanding parents who allowed me to collect all the books in the Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and the Bobbsey Twins series.

I used to be in book clubs with my friends way before it was a trendy thing to do. Being able to share this love of reading and books with my students on a daily basis is a gift for me. Together, we really create a community of readers. The blog is just an extension of my own reading life and my love for books.

I’m staggered by readers of your knowledge and commitment. In that, I think being a writer pretty much prevents me from becoming a great reader –- in the sense of a broad reader, expansive and up-to-date.

Bill: I think our profession sort of demands it so we can keep up to date for our kids. In your profession it might get distracting to your writing? What do you think?

That’s it, exactly. In fact, I shouldn’t even be here right now.

Karen: I feel like it comes in cycles for me. My avid reading times are in the summer, at the beach, and at any holiday break. I am in a “down” time right now, but I am eagerly awaiting our holiday break in two weeks! A few things help me stay up-to-date with current books: Bill introduced me to the awesomeness of the “new book” section at our public library, I have friends who are willing to share their Advanced Reader Copies, and we have a fabulous independent children’s bookstore here in Columbus called, Cover to Cover. The owner, Sally, is gracious about sharing the best of the new books in the store.

Well, we’re all in it together, right? Isn’t that the subtext of this discussion?

Karen: Absolutely! When the small group of Central Ohio bloggers gets together, we never seem to run out of things to talk about. And central to all our conversations are books –- we love being able to refer books to each other, and talk about mutual books we love.
And then I look at how we’ve connected with you over such a short amount of time, just because I happened to review Along Came Spider –- it’s back to being connected to one another’s lives through books.

I get a kick out of how you guys flip out over books you love. What’s the big deal?

Bill: There is nothing better than connecting with a kid over a great book.

Karen: When I read a book I thoroughly enjoy, I want to share that with others. I agree with what Bill said about the connections you make with kids. The students who come to school and tells me they read a post about a book and had to get a copy so they could read it themselves –- that’s the big deal about books for me.

Let’s talk about the Newbery Award. In reading them all, Bill, did you come across any stinkers?

Bill: Definitely. School Library Journal just did an article on this last month, “Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?” written by Anita Silvey. It was well done and so true. I tend to like the Honor Books better than the actual Medal Winners. Somewhere along the way the voters forgot that these were books for kids, not adults who read books for kids.

I spoke with an editor recently who felt that it hurt the entire industry when they name a book that isn’t kid-friendly. Not that it should be a popularity contest, but that child-appeal should be an important factor. Or do you believe that the committee should rise above any commercial thought of “promoting the industry?” I guess the question is, are some of these committees out of touch with what kids are willing to read?

Bill: I don’t think the Newbery committee has the responsibility to sell books, or that it is a popularity contest, but they do have the responsibility to pick books that kids will read and enjoy. Otherwise why say the award is for fiction geared for ten to fourteen year olds? If the books they pick aren’t written for those ages — what’s the point? And yes, I think some of the committees are out of touch. That said, there are examples recently, especially in the Honor selections of books that might not have made much of a splash without the award. Once they had medals attached, teachers read them and then put them into the kids’ hands. A couple that come to mind are Al Capone Does My Shirts and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

So what book is going to win the Newbery this year?

Bill: I like Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor; Diamond Willow by Helen Frost, and my dark horse is Itch: A Novel by Michele D. Kwasney. However, The Underneath will probably win and I don’t really like it much.

Karen: I’ll be rooting for Waiting for Normal.

Wow, good for Leslie Connor. She grew up not far from here, outside of Schenectady. Arnold Lobel grew up in Schenectady, too. Must be something in the water. Okay, lightning round. Favorite books?

Karen: All-time favorite, Little Women. Adult favorite –- I’m a Jodi Picoult junkie!

Bill: Hattie Big Sky; Johnny Tremain; Make Way for Ducklings; Twelve Terrible Things . . . I could go on and on.

Favorite blogs?

Karen and Bill (talking really fast, together): A Year of Reading! Jen Robinson! 100 Scope Notes! The Miss Rumphius Effect! The Reading Zone! Two Writing Teachers! Creative Literacy! Barbara O’Connor! And, of course, your blog!

You had to say that or I’d never let you out of here. Anyway, Karen and Bill, thanks for the interview. And thank you, most of all, for the very real contribution you make to children’s literature. Please accept this 1978 Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven as a parting gift.

The Fuse Is Lit

Hey, cool. I was mentioned this morning at one of my favorite blogs, A Fuse #8 Production.

And, well, yes. Complimenting Elizabeth Bird on her blog is like going to traffic court, ticket in hand, and praising the judge’s new hair style.

It’s hard not to seem self-serving.

In today’s rapidly changing world, we’ve seen a tidal shift in information delivery systems. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Kindle, Book Trailers, etc. For those newish readers (and that’s funny, you don’t look newish), I direct you to this brilliant three-minute short by Dennis Cass. At the same time, I recently received this offer from Kirkus Reviews: “A one-year subscription and complete access to Kirkusreviews.com for only $199!”

Yipes, no can do. Sure, I realize I’m not an institution and not their target audience. But even institutions have budgets. And I effortlessly surf the kidlitosphere to read thoughtful reviews, interviews, business news, artists’ thoughts, and classroom experiences as I click, click, click. For free. The world is changing, and the future of publishing — of books themselves — is in jeopardy. The old ways are increasingly out-of-sync with today’s world. We’ve seen it in music. We’re seeing it in the automobile industry. We’ll experience it with books.

So that’s the subtext for Fuse #8, and the influential, increasingly important Elizabeth Bird. Is she becoming one of the most powerful voices in the business? Oprah-esque? This little blogger who could? So, again, here I am in the position of asking the traffic court judge if she has been, by any chance, working out lately. I realize it might appear indecorous. But I regularly read Elizabeth’s site. I am informed by it, inspired by it. Besides her obvious devotion to children’s books, Elizabeth has really mastered the blog format, striking a balance between the pithy and the complete, between “fast” and “slow” blogging, between sharing links and offering Deep Thinks.

I always think of visiting a blog as a decision to hang out with that person. And I’m saying, Elizabeth Bird can hang.

A quick thanks to Shannon Penney at Scholastic who first steered me to Fuse #8.

Now Judge, about this ticket . . .

ADDENDUM: Back to the business of publishing, we all know about Black Wednesday. Yesterday I came across a related item on Gawker.com, sent to me by a writer friend who also publishes with Macmillan. The piece included the text of a recent memo from John Sargent at Macmillan to all employees. Here’s the first paragraph in what represents, relatively speaking, Good News (read: he didn’t fire anybody):

“Since I spoke to you a month ago about the economic crisis and its impact on our company, I can’t say much has changed. We are now clearly in a recession and there is still no clarity on how long or deep it will be. What is clear is that retail book sales are down, advertising revenues are down, and even countercyclical businesses like education are struggling in many cases. We are not immune to these forces, and our business continues to be soft. So the time has come to take action for next year.”