This week in writing… poetry & letters edition

It’s National Poetry Month! Spring is in the air, and everyone’s inspired. I wish I could put a poem here, but I suck at that, so let’s just dig in…

Jane Yolen has tips on writing poetry over at Katie Davis’ blog.

On April 21st, the Postal Service will honor 20th century poets with their own stamps!

The 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award winner and honoree has been announced.

Maybe you’re just looking for the best prose out there… Bank Street has you covered with the best books of 2012 from infant to YA.

Over in the UK, the Roald Dahl museum has now opened up an exhibit that includes his writing hut. Man, I want one of those!

Have you seen this letter from Kurt Vonnegut to the head of a school board who ordered his books to be burned in the school furnace?

In news of nicer letters, there’s this book of letters C.S. Lewis wrote to children.

There are a couple of new ventures to report. The people behind One Story have now launched a new magazine, One Teen Story for older readers. They are now accepting short stories for their first year of publication. Also, author Marissa Moss is launching her own publishing company, Creston Books.

Dahl in his Writing Hut

Just as the DOJ, Apple and the big 6 start making decisions about their suit, Amazon cuts ebook prices. This will further separate them from the pack, and put them firmly ahead of their competition. I wonder what Barnes & Noble’s response will be, if any. (Oh wait. They’ve updated their Simple Touch with a GlowLight. OK, that’s a handy feature, but is that enough?) Meanwhile, in the Department of Justice suit, three are settling while three more are standing up to fight, saying that there was no collusion on their part to set the prices of ebooks. And on the other end of the spectrum, the ebook version of J.K. Rowling’s new adult novel will be priced at about $20. What the muggle?

With all the fur and feathers flying, some publishers are trying to squeeze out Amazon by not signing contracts with them. (How do we feel about this, authors?)

If you think that ebook pricing doesn’t affect you because you’re only a reader, you’re mistaken.  A consumer advocate group has calculated that the pricing fix will actually cost each of us about $200 more this year. I know what you’re thinking. You’re just going to get your ebooks from the library. Well hold that thought. Libraries and publishers are still fighting. In fact a group of 25 libraries in Connecticut recently voted to boycott Random House.

Bah humbug, you say? Who cares about ereaders and ebooks you say? Well, it seems that people who use electronic devices to read, read more than those who only read on print. I bet the divide will keep growing.

[Roald Dahl image from BBC:]


Your book in a box of cereal

You get up in the morning, open up a box of cereal, and out pours a great children’s book, written by you!

It can happen. Recently, I learned that kids in the UK were going to be treated to some Roald Dahl with their morning cereal, and I just found out that Cheerios is doing the same with a New Author Contest. This isn’t for the previously published. Newbies only. Plus they’ve teamed with one of my favorite charities, First Book. Here’s the full story:

Have you ever dreamed of seeing your words in print, turned into a children’s book and read by families across America?  The Cheerios® New Author Contest provides aspiring writers the perfect opportunity to make this dream a reality. One Grand Prize Winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a possible publishing deal with Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, in addition to having his or her book featured inside Cheerios cereal boxes nationwide.

As part of the brand’s ongoing commitment to nurturing the whole child and connecting families by fostering a shared love of reading,Cheerios invites aspiring authors to enter its New Author Contest now through July 15, 2011.  Entrants must write and submit an original story, in either English or Spanish, suitable for children ages three to eight.  Those who think they have the “write” stuff can visit for more information and to enter.

2009 New Author Contest Grand Prize Winner Laurie Isop, of Renton, Wash., and her book, How Do You Hug a Porcupine?, will be featured inside three million specially-marked boxes of Cheerios this spring. Isop’s story, which was selected from more than 8,000 entries, will also be available in bookstores nationwide as of July 26.  “The Cheerios New Author Contest helped me achieve my decade-old goal of becoming a published author,” said Isop.

Ron Rauss of Warrenton, Va. has officially been named the Grand Prize Winner of the 2010 New Author Contest and will follow in Isop’s footsteps when his winning story Can I Just Take a Nap? is distributed inside Cheerios cereal boxes next spring 2012.

Finessing the biography

In my professional life, I’ve written more biographies than anything else. And I’ve come to really admire the genre, not just because I write them, or because I find non-fiction more interesting now that I’m a grownup, but because I often find how the biographer phrases history really fascinating.

When you first pick up the biography of a person, you’re not looking to find out anything about the writer. But how the biographer feels about their subject is almost immediately apparent. Read any politician’s biography, one written by a person in his/her camp, and another written by a supporter of the opposing party, and you’ll see an obvious difference in tone.

Intent is written into every fact a biographer chooses to highlight. You can read the praise, or the disdain between the lines, though often those feelings aren’t hidden. Recently, I’ve read biographies of Al Gore, Roald Dahl and Barack Obama. I read several Al Gore bios because I was writing my  own biography on him. I read Roald Dahl because I came across an interesting one while doing research for another project, and I picked it up out of curiosity. And I read the Barack Obama bio because… well… because.

The most enjoyable biographies are those where the biographer is free with their analysis of the subject’s history, and ones where the biographer leads with quotes. I mainly do the latter in the bios that I write, and I try really hard not to inject my own feelings, though I’m sure they’re clear anyway.

But the best part of a biography is the personal finesse used to tell the facts. I finished David Remnick’s The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama this weekend, and here’s my favorite line: “Obama, after less than nine months in office, had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. The President’s reaction was a more elongated and colorful version of “Shut up.”” Now that’s both fact, and entertainment.

It makes me want to get started on a new biography just so I can use a line like that.