Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Publishers at the Palace

Today I started out with a fool's errand: I drove my youngest child to an orthodontist's appointment in Herkimer. Wrong blinking date! Afterward I did the line edits on "The Girl in the Fabrilon." And I received an acceptance for "The Fire Girl." I'm having a good week for acceptances. After my three children go to bed, I'll work on my talks for the Let's Read! conference.

Another thing I did today was to read blogs by Dan Green and Scott Esposito. Both were on that perennial topic, what's wrong with publishing--leading to a vision of New York publishers crumbling onto the pavement while self-published zebras of all stripes run amuck. I can probably fret about publishers and publishing with the most stalwart complainers, and I have intimate knowledge of the usual disasters: editor departing at just the wrong moment; editor giving publisher the bird and grabbing rolodex; publisher obsessed with the antics of the lead book author; publisher waiting so long to print that I withdraw a book; lack of marketing; great reviews without any increase in marketing, etc. I've even had the misfortune of a slightly delayed book coming out right after 9-11. So I'm an expert at black thoughts regarding the fate of my books. With six books behind me, I've published with three houses: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, a New York publisher now owned by Holtzbrinck (4 books, 2 from the adult division and 2 young adult/crossover books from the children's division); David R. Godine, Publisher (1 book); and Louisiana State University Press (1 book/poetry). That's one large house owned by a multi-national corporation, one smaller house, and one university press.

Let me figure out what has mattered to me about a link with what Dan calls "mainstream publishing." In the simplest terms, what have I gained?

1. I possess the exquisite one-of-a-kind Queen Elaine: that is, the instantly recognizable copy editing of a paragon. I could tell within a page when FSG substituted somebody else. I cherish the exactitude of her nitpicky work.

2. I have been lucky enough to have editors with expertise and taste. Yes, I am satisfied with how my books have been and are edited. I find the comments I get from editors to be interesting and always worth considering; I find the burnishing that happens during copy editing to be satisfying and worthwhile. I've learned something from editors since the days when I--an innocent poet who had perpetrated some fiction and knew nothing of the ways of publishing--sent a novella and some stories to Mr. David R. Godine in a brown paper envelope. Sadi Ransom, Elisabeth Dyssegaard, Robbie Mayes: yes, definitely satisfied.

3. It's a wonderful thing when a person of taste recognizes one's work immediately. Here's one example. Catherwood arrived in New York offices on a Monday; two days later it and I had a home. When an editor sees and understands with such celerity, it's encouraging in a way that isn't soon forgotten. When one is wandering the sands of obscurity, one stumbles on an oasis of welcome...

4. While I can't say that I've been coddled by a house, I can say that a writer benefits from an ongoing link to an editor. Unfortunately, most links end with breakage these days. Editors move on. But where I have had continuity, I feel that I've gained something: that the editor sees the arc of my work and is thoughtful about strengths.

5. Once upon a time I taught, even got tenure in my fifth year. That year I also quit, because I didn't feel that the profession was good for or conducive to my writing. Yours, perhaps. Not mine. If I had no connection with publishers, I would be even more cut off--I live in the absolute boonsticks of the world, and I regard my connection with publishers as a supportive one. Do I wish it more so? Of course.

6. The sorts of publishers who have published my books are not the ones throwing "chaff" to the winds. I feel, in fact, a little protected from that landscape by my publishers.

7. My books have stayed in print. The only one that has not is Catherwood, oddly enough, as the book was paddling along and doing fine when it abruptly capsized. It was a Literary Guild alternate, sold a movie option, sold French, German, and Spanish rights, etc. But the book went into paperback in the old Bard imprint, newly revived. When HarperCollins purchased William Morrow/Avon, they spat out a lot of lines, including Bard. All the others are still in print. Not bad.

8. The physical books are sturdy, well made, often beautiful.

9. I don't have to warehouse them or mail them here and yon, etc.

10. And then there are elements like the lovely jacket image--a Steve Cieslawski oil painting--that hangs over my writing table, and all the generous, encouraging people I've met through my books.

None of those elements address the way mid-list books are marketed, or the pressure for the writer to help market. They don't grapple with the way most books, good or bad, are dropped into a well. They don't deal with the fact that much of what is recommended in the way of marketing just doesn't work, or with how a writer must think "outside the box."

My young adult/crossover book, Ingledove, is being marketed by my publisher in the customary way, with more web contact than in the case of my prior books. What have I done to help my marketers? I spent a good deal of time developing a interactive information base with links to web sites and hot email addresses. I bugged my editor about helping me get a blurb from a notable writer. Thanks to him, it has a splendiferous blurb from Diana Wynne Jones. And I've spent a lot of time sending out recent poems, stories, and novellas, partly in order to publicize the book. Will it help? I'll have to wait and see. I have some events coming up, but not as many as for the last book; I'm not impressed with their effectiveness, unless they are special venues, like the Let's Read! conference I'm doing next, thanks to my marketer--it's an event with a 19-year history, a built-in audience of over 300 teachers, and great coordination by Frank Hodge, owner of Hodge-Podge books in Albany.

And now I'd better go work on those talks...

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Midnight Crier (at 2:00 a.m.): that was the Shaara...

Some days ago I announced that a penpal, Philip Lee Williams, had won the Shaara for 2004. Then I had to change it to the ______ because the award hadn't been formally announced. Now it has been. The unpacking of confetti and fireworks, party hats and bugles is in order: http://www.cwc.lsu.edu/cwc/mshaara.htm#2004.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Palace P. O.

Bookish NYC picture postcards, all from the last three days:

Robbie-the-editor in his new beard (already scraped off, though I said that I liked it, honest!);

Rebecca-the-middle-child-bookworm, age 13, devouring sushi again and again and yet again;

Sabeth and Lee--why are marketers always so attractive, I wonder?--plus the rest of the children's division at a wine and cheese pillage;

a letter from Jane to her dear sister, Cassandra, plus George Eliot's notes in Hebrew;

Elaine, Queen of Copy Editors, in her leafy chamber of books and manuscripts;

an abysmal lot of correspondence in my FSG file (never thought that they'd keep the stuff--I'll never tell anything, ever again!);

several of Renato Alarcao's original drawings in Robbie's office, including one from Ingledove;

Liz-the-agent with a picture book starring her fat stripey cat, Magic;

the grumpy FSG cat, picture-book dummies, inner sanctums, book hoards, etc.!

The Midnight Crier (at 10:00 p.m.): Ingledove in BOOKLIST

Like Youmans' previous fantasy for young people, The Curse of the Raven Mocker (2003), this one follows a girl, Ingledove, into Adantis, a hidden land in the Blue Ridge Mountains that is inhabited by magical creatures as well as people who count the Cherokee, English, Scots, and Irish as their ancestors. After Ingledove's older brother Lang is bewitched by a shape-shifting serpent woman, the siblings set out for Adantis. There they find their mother's grave, the dammed lake that has drowned their birthplace, and the evil creature who enchants Lang and threatens his life. Beyond all the associations with death, in Adantis they also find beauty, friendship, and hope. Jarrett the witchmaster foresees their coming and joins Ingledove in the perilous journey she must take to save Lang. The appended Adantan glossary discusses the meaning of words, identifies people and creatures, and explains aspects of Adantan lore. Besides the richly imagined setting and history, this fantasy offers a sympathetic heroine involved in an exciting adventure. -Carolyn Phelan

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Guppies & Publishers, etc.

And now I have a nice fat box with twenty copies of Ingledove. It's just as lovely en masse as it was solo. Renato Alarcao, the illustrator, has received his copies as well and is pleased. He lives on the 17th floor (or thereabouts) of an apartment house in Rio de Janeiro with his wife and the cat that flew, then fell. He has many clever and lovely illustrations in another FSG book, Red Ridin' in the Hood: And Other Cuentos.

I was talking to one of our two Cooperstown booksellers today. One is in a shop divided between books and jewelry; the other has a space split between books and baseball souvenirs. The jeweler-bookseller told me several mildly curious things: I am the only person in the history of the store to ask for bookplates; the tourists who come to Cooperstown do not know what bookplates are; those same tourists do not know how to figure out where the price is on a book. This does suggest that our tourists are not entirely familiar with books.

The guppies in my husband's office gave birth. This led him to meditate on the nature of publishers. Guppies have many babies. Guppies do not take care of their babies. Guppies eat their babies. Only a very few survive...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

From the Palace Chamber of Speculative Information, Strange Flesch, and Fog Indexes: The Wolf Pit

With fanfare and dancing boys, Amazon.com has entered into the realm of the fantastic:

The most common 100 words in The Wolf Pit are:
aemilia again against agate air along although another arms away bird book boys brother came child children come cousin day dead down even eyes face fanny fields first get girl go good green ground hair hand head himself home horse house knew know last little long looked man marly mary master men might miss mother mouth mr name nash new night nothing now old once own pit place robin rose said saw see seemed side slaves soldiers something still thing thomas thought three time tit told toward trees two virginia water williamson without wolf woman words world years youmans young

The conclusion one draws from this is that if you are the sort of person who likes words like these, you might just like The Wolf Pit, a perfectly grand book that won the Shaara Award and was short-listed for the Southern Book Award but unfortunately arrived on the burning heels of 9-11. (That's not even to mention J. Franzen's heels, keeping my publisher and Oprah so very occupied that fall. Now you take out one foot out of your mouth, now the other... And the departing heels of my editor went flashing by as well.) Where were we when we took that detour into the Black Forest of knobby roots that look like heels and toes? Ah, yes. If you feel a mystical connection with the 100 words, or if any one of them--say, death, mother, young, world, woman, child, house, or book--seems to have even the barest connection to your life, then rush out and buy a copy, won't you?

The Fog index for The Wolf Pit: 9.8
According to Amazon, this means that at the point one has finished 80 percent of the ninth grade--no less, not even a teensy bit less!--one will be perfectly equipped to read The Wolf Pit. Before the school year progresses further, pilfer a copy from your nearest bookstore and present it to a child who has passed beyond the barrier of 9.8. That will be a clear and lucid act, one that will have nothing of fog about it anywhere. Interesting, isn't it? The paradox of the thing...

Dr. Rudolph Flesch's Famous Readability test: The Wolf Pit scores 69.1!
Whew! That's a definite relief! While I can't appeal to 5th graders, who need a score of 90 to 100, I am quite safe from tumbling down into the "fleschy" 0 to 30 slot, a circle of hell where one must have a college education! I feel All Over Exclamatory!

Did I mention that this is not a book for children?

Flesch & Fog combined, the marriage of the fleshly and the ethereal: 8.1
All recommendations prior to this are OFF. By hook, by crook, by trembling tenterhook, I conjure you to buy this book-- for your eighth-grader, of course, who at this point in the year has matured safely past the first ten percent of eighth-grade schooling, even if he hasn't been paying a whole lot of attention.

Moreover:
A mere 7% of The Wolf Pit is composed of "complex" words of three syllables or more. In fact, most of the words in the book are made from precisely 1.4 syllables, according to the handy graph provided by the Amazonian bookseller.

And now I congratulate the one-breasted woman warrior on her new innovation. I positively fawn on the weirdness, fantasy, and general quirk of the thing. I especially like the "words/ounce 6,377," masterful in its mystery.

And now, my dear Lady Amazon, could you please, please, please post my wonderful (and pleasingly long) Diana Wynne Jones quote on my Ingledove page? Before the pub date (May 7, I remind you)? And before the river of your name with its muscular currents and cunning piranha carries me away?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Midnight Crier (at 2:00 a.m.): Marly at Got Books? Let's Read!

My first appearance for Ingledove is at Got Books? Let's Read!, an annual conference sponsored by Hodge-Podge Books of Lark St., Albany. Hodge-Podge being tiny and adorable, the events take place at the Desmond Hotel. I used to walk by the store when I pushed my bambinos in a stroller--something that I did every blessed day, because we lived in a likewise tiny and adorable one-bedroom box of claustrophobia--just around the corner from Lark, on Willett St. However, Hodge-Podge was above ground, and it had a cat.

On the Hodge-Podge site, I am "Narly": Gnarly Youmans, the crumpled-up Georgia sharecropper, I imagine. My own grandpa. This year's conference will be Friday and Saturday, April 28-29, though I plan to go up early for general carousing, along with my plow and my mule.

Frank Hodge has grand taste in books and says: "She will be here with her second [young adult] book which I found mesmerizing from line one to the end, INGLEDOVE. And I am not a fantasy reader-lover." I'll have to take him one of my earlier books, so he can see my mind in another incarnation.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Midnight Crier (in the morning!): an Ingledove arrival

Robbie-my-editor has sent me an initial copy of Ingledove. Renato Alarcao's jacket is dramatic and lovely, with the subtle musical staff and notes in the air and the deep blues lit where Ingledove's hand reaches into the water. The title on cover and jacket is pleasantly watery--that's to Robbie's credit, I believe. The Diana Wynne Jones blurb is big and satisfying! And the cover is divided between a deep blue paper that wraps the spine and extends onto the boards and a paler blue flecked with blue and charcoal fibers. I'm so glad there's a frontispiece on this one. Renato has a flair for drama in image and light, so the additional picture is enticing...

Beautiful book. Good reviews so far, so far as I know. What next?

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Midnight Crier at 2:00 a.m.: Kirkus

Somebody sent me a clip from a Kirkus review of Ingledove: "the intricate and unorthodox mythos is fascinating; Ingledove's story, though set in the 20thcentury, is clearly folklore."

The Midnight Crier at 2:00 a.m.: Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books praises "Ingledove"

Trade pre-pubs are coming out...

Much of this review is an accurate summary, ending with the comments that:

Youmans' wordcraft is both subtle and expressive ("She was slender, starting to bud, though no more than that; people often said she had lovely eyes or hair or lips, as if they could see only a piece of her at a time"). Characterization is convincing--especially well drawn are the lonely Jarrett and Ingledove herself... [some summary here]. Deft writing and the unusual yet down-home setting make this an engaging historical fantasy.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Midnight Crier at 2:00 a.m.: frolics with the poets

Upcoming:
Ingledove reviews
Phil's mystery award

Meanwhile:
from Roddy Lumsden,
Poetry in practice: mistakes poets make

There are heaps more of these funny, anonymous quotes from poets... go look.

*Never agree to stay behind and look at the folders or manuscripts of individual poets after teaching a workshop. This leads straight to boiling in pig's blood in hell.
*Many unpublished poets are as good as many published ones. They're just not different enough for a publisher to be interested. If you already have plenty tins of beans in the store, you don't order more.
*Be prepared for your minor competition win to herald ten years of arid obscurity rather than the sunlit uplands of the success you drunkenly imagined was then secured.
*Don't, as I was, be put off by the lofty way reviewers and academics write about poetry – think of it as the pidgin language of a far-away land you never need visit.
*Reviewing should be firm, kind and not more than one sentence cruel. If you can help it.
*Don't go to a dinner or drinks party where you don't know the other invitees and say you're a poet. Auden settled on 'Medieval Historian', I normally say 'Logician'.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

1st long "Ingledove" review, a month early!

Ruth Moose, writer and instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill, has reviewed Ingledove in "The Pilot," the newspaper of Pinehurst, Southern Pines, and the Sandhills of North Carolina. Here are a few quotes from her essay:

...
In “Ingledove” she has created an Appalachian world as rich in nomenclature as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. And even more poetically written. Youmans’ description of fungi and fireflies in a luminescent garden is some of the most beautiful prose I’ve run across in awhile.
...
Ingledove is the younger sister of Lang, her brother with whom she goes seeking the land of their mother and the location of her grave. En route Lang is bitten by a serpent creature and can only be saved by a Witchmaster, Jarrett and his store of herbs and tonics. Their journey is both arduous and exciting, and I can imagine my 14-year-old granddaughter reading this, saying “I can’t put this book down. I can’t stop reading.”
...
What an adventure of a book. What a fantastic read. Youmans is the author of several adult novels and most recently “The Curse of the Raven Mocker,” with the same Western North Carolina setting as “Ingledove.” Youmans grew up in Cullowhee, and in her young adult series she’s writing from her roots.

2004 **** Award for "A Distant Flame"

I posted what's below, then found out that it hasn't been announced yet. So out it goes! I'll change the stars tomorrow, or when the announcement breaks.

The penpal I've never met, Philip Lee Williams, has won ***** for 2004 for his lovely novel, A Distant Flame. I just got a note from him, so I hope it's all right to say so! Phil is having an astounding run of book acceptances, reprint announcements, and honors. Is this the icing on a many-layered cake? Who knows? Perhaps many candles are yet to come: a glorious bonfire.

It is wonderful to see a writer who has worked quietly and steadily receive all these laurels. Though I've never met Phil in person, he is a person of great tenacity and sweetness, and at last his time to be recognized--for his books to be seen and read in greater numbers--has come round. When so much dross is heralded with trumpets and naked dancing girls, it's good for something gold to be raised into the light.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

My ship comes in--"Argosy Quarterly"

Today my copies of Argosy Quarterly arrived, and they really are as beautiful--a pleasing size and illustrated on good paper, with two volumes in a slipcase--as had been promised. I have the first three issues, and they are marvelous to behold...

It's also wonderful to be in an issue with the Mad Hatter on the cover. Maybe we can't all be Mad Hatters, as Howl told Sophie Hatter, but it's very pleasant to be linked with one. Alice in Wonderland was my favorite book for years and years. When I was five, friends of my mother gave me Alice and Through the Looking Glass with Tenniel illustrations, two volumes in a slipcase. It seems faintly linked to being in this slipcase of two volumes, Mad Hatter on case and cover.

My novella in this issue is "An Incident at Agate Beach," inspired by long-ago wanderings on the coast of Oregon: lots of agates and stones with water trapped inside, sea and sea things, passion and loss and urchins of all kinds. James A. Owen, the fecund maker of Argosy and International Studio and Starchild and Mythworld and who knows what else, writes this about the story: Marly Youmans is the best response to the question as to whether it's worth our while to remain open to submissions. Finding one Youmans story in the mail is worth wading through any number of unsuitable submissions. A literary writer with fantastic inclinations, Marly is why there IS an ARGOSY.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

"The Girl in the Fabrilon" forthcoming

Last week Ellen Datlow bought "The Girl in the Fabrilon" for SCIFICTION, the online magazine of the SciFi channel... This is another Templeton-Cooperstown story, set in our museums and the Lakefront Park. This morning the lake was seeping around the boundary stones, and now the bronze Indian boy is moated.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

"The Gate House" forthcoming

"The Gate House," a novella set in the peculiar landscape of Templeton, is forthcoming in Argosy Quarterly 4. Templeton is the setting for a number of my stories. It is a step away from Cooperstown, where I now live (in a large and comfortable bank of snow.) Meanwhile Cooperstown is a step away from reality because it mixes what we call reality with places Fenimore Cooper created or wrote about and transformed in his novels. Cooper used the name Templeton, but my Templeton is neither his nor wholly the Cooperstown where I live or where he lived but a village that revels in and aggrandizes its fictionality (handed down from Cooper) and its more peculiar traits. Cooperstonians will recognize the gate house, Christ Church, and Glimmerglass/Lake Otsego.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Great April Prognostication of Now and To Come

Unceasing wonders:

Catherwood is back in print!

I've decided that the basic Yankee snow heap with scooped bedroom and candles is a perfectly fine sort of house after all.

My children have decided to put off the teenage years until their second childhoods.

The Grumpy Old Bookman is no longer Grumpy but Happy. Really. (It's enough to set my teeth on edge. And which dwarf-adjective comes next?)

My forthcoming novel will be the lead book at FSG . . . I am taking lead-book lessons from J. Franzen, just to be prepared with the most up-to-date methods.

All the megacorporations are breaking up into tiny boutique publishers in order to nurture writers and offer them tea and shortbread in the afternoons.

Books will now be shelved beginning with the letter "Z," sometimes with "Y," so that my books are never again in the bottom right-hand corner with the dust bunnies.

I have stopped wanting to eat lady peas and okra and all the things I can't get Up Here.

The Waldenbooks in Oneonta has decided to carry local authors!

America has thrown its trashiest books out the windows, where red-blooded American dogs are e'en now gumming and savaging their intimate intimacies and making the yard look like Cooperstown: that is, very white with snow, snow on snow, in the bleak December, etc.

"Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" will be read on the steps of the Village Library on the 4th of July. The hunt is on for a wild-eyed villager with stentorian voice.

People who have not read Fenimore Cooper will not be allowed to talk about him, no time, no more, uh-uh. Not even at the annual Village Library Book Sale.

P. O. T. (promise of Tinkerbell): no more books of mine will ever appear just after an editor (mine!) has departed the house or mere days after dire national disasters.

My very own copies of what everybody says is the beautiful Argosy Quarterly will arrive on Monday.

My children will quit eating 40 hours a month with their insane, obsessive desire for more, more, more karate.

The fancy Lady Azure (blue Persian with a heart murmur given to us rather than flogged to some lady-fied person who has all day to comb out her dread-locked fur) will quit being too stuck-up to use the litter box with Theodora.

Lady Azure will quit needing baths.

Someone else will bathe Lady Azure. And comb out those teeny-weeny dreadlocks. And clean her tiny, fabulous nose.

It occurs to me that Lady Azure is really a live teddy bear. Someone will want to do those things to a live teddy bear. Soon.

Big news! The Baseball Hall of Fame is moving to Poughkeepsie.

Moreover, the baseball shops are moving to Poughkeepsie. (P. O. T.: There will be children's underpants and Other Useful Things in the new shops.)

Naturally, the baseball tourists will be following the BHF and the shops to Poughkeepsie. This will leave us with the Fenimore and Farmer Museum breed of tourist, the opera tourist, and the old-house-and-nature tourist. And the shops with the children's etcetera.

Poughkeepsie will welcome the BHF tourist, assuredly...

More big news: James Fenimore Cooper is moving to Poughkeepsie.

Good for Poughkeepsie!