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Category: YA

Festival of Books: Are you there Judy Blume? It's us, your fan base


Judy Blume fans packed USC's Bovard Auditorium on Saturday afternoon to hear Los Angeles Times staff writer Mary McNamara talk with the author about her books, her writing career and her characters at the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

They came young and old, carrying dog-eared, well-loved copies of her books. They applauded loudly, they listened patiently, and when it came time for the audience question-and-answer period they lined up at the microphones to say thank you to the author who had an uncanny ability to put all their awkward growing-up moments to paper.

Over the course of the conversation with McNamara -- and fans -- Blume shared how she came to start writing in the first place ("I had two young kids; I'd married young and I had no creative outlet"), what her pre-writing career was ("making felt cutout figures for children's rooms, but I became allergic to the Elmer's glue, so I guess it was a sign") and how writing a first draft is always hard.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

"I hate first drafts, and it never gets easier. People always wonder what kind of superhero power they'd like to have," Blume told the audience. "I wanted the ability for someone to just open up my brain and take out the entire first draft and lay it down in front of me so I can just focus on the second, third and fourth drafts." She said the 23 drafts she went through for "Summer Sisters" made her vow that it would be her last book.

"And it was for a long time," Blume said, who told the crowd she's currently working on a book about growing up in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1952. "People say, 'Oh, you're writing historical fiction,' but those were the years I was growing up."

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Festival of Books: Jerry Stahl and others on the book-to-screen trick

Jerrystahl_benstillerWar stories can really pack a room -- particularly when told by four successful writers who span the tumultuous, ever-shifting landscapes of Hollywood and the print publishing establishment.

As such, the “Page and Screen” panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on Saturday -- featuring Jerry Stahl, April Smith, Stephen Jay Schwartz and Ned Vizzini talking about writing for both worlds -- was packed. (We counted just seven empty seats by the event’s end.) All especially surprising, given the panel started bright and early at 10:30 a.m.

Moderator John Sacret Young did a particularly adept job at drawing out the panelists’ yarns, which traversed typical terrain: breaking through Hollwood’s steel walls, adapting one’s own work versus having your baby-of-a-novel or memoir retold for the screen by someone else, reversion rights (or lack thereof), navigating general frustration and rejection. But the discussion wasn’t without a hefty and appropriate dose of humor.

Contractual and financial booby traps in the book-optioning process could prove less than lively fodder, for example. But when asked how much he was paid for his memoir, “Permanent Midnight,” Stahl spiced up the conversation: “Let’s just say that I could make more money assembling toilet seats in Guam,” he said. “When’s the next flight?”

Smith joked that Amazon might want to consider adding a button, on individual book pages, that reads: “Would you care to donate one dollar to the author?”

Still, Stahl,who writes for "CSI" among other TV shows, was appreciative of his career good fortune. “Thank God for Hollywood,” he said, “it pays for me to write the books.”

“I know we’re not supposed to make money writing novels, but I do,” said young adult author Vizzini, addressing Hollywood’s growing interest in the genre. He said YA can now address much more nuanced topics than in the past, like self-mutilation, drugs and depression. “The content has really expanded and that’s great to see,” Vizzini said.

Schwartz offered a bit of realism from the trenches of film development. In addition to novel writing, he spent years as Wolfgang Peterson’s director of development. Among his films are “Outbreak” and “Air Force One.” That experience fueled his career as a novelist, he said.

“Reading thousands of screenplays and working on all these projects gave me a great place to start from when writing my own novel,” he said. “I just wrote something I’d have been looking for when I was in the film world.”

When asked what advice the panelists had for fledgling novelists and screenwriters, Vizzini put it best -- and with the same characteristic humor that shot through the panel as a whole:

“Just take something that happened in your own life, add a love triangle and, um, fire,” he said.

-- Deborah Vankin

Photo: Jerry Stahl, right, in 2002 with Ben Stiller, who played him in the film version of "Permanent Midnight." Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

'The Hunger Games' banned, animation style [Video]

Next Media Animation, the Vietnamese animation group that turns news stories into lively animations, has turned its attention to "The Hunger Games." While the movie racks up big box-office receipts -- more than $300 million so far -- the book remains a subject of some controversy. For the second year in a row, "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins has landed in the top 10 books that are challenged as being inappropriate for children.

That's according to the American Library Assn., which Monday released its list of most-challenged and banned books in conjunction with Library Week. Barbara Jones, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, told the Associated Press that anticipation for the "Hunger Games" film led to closer criticism of the book and its sequels, "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay."

Together, the three-book series landed at No. 3 on the most-challenged list, with complaints including "anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence." Topping the list are books by Lauren Myracle, with "The Color of Earth" series by Kim Dong Hwa at No. 2.

While the banning of books is a serious matter, Next Media Animation reimagines the news fancifully. In the video,  challengers of "The Hunger Games" dance gleefully around a pile of burning books.


Book review: Suzanne Collins' "Mockingjay"

The hit machine behind "The Hunger Games"

Mad for 'The Hunger Games' merch: Nail polish, socks, crossbows

-- Carolyn Kellogg


This Sunday: Figment, Charles Dickens, Etgar Keret and more

FigmentIt’s been a busy week around The Times' book department as we get ready for the Festival of Books in just two weeks (April 21 and 22) at USC. We’ve been planning coverage leading up to the festival and thinking about the great writers, editors and publishing figures coming to town to talk about our favorite subject: books. If you haven’t had time to check the lineup of outstanding panels, conversations and other presentations, please check it here.

   Meanwhile, a relatively new communication platform and a decidedly old one highlight our book coverage on Sunday. The new one is Figment, the social networking site primarily for teens, where budding writers can critique their work and the work of others. The site’s slogan is “Write Yourself In,” and in just 15 months, more than 200,000 young people have done so and more than 350,000 individual pieces have been posted. According to Jacob Lewis, a former managing editor at the New Yorker and Portfolio who is in charge of the site’s day-to-day operation, they add 1,000 new pieces a day.

"It’s essential that our users feel a sense of ownership," Lewis told Times book critic David Ulin, who writes about Figment’s rapid rise for this Sunday's Arts & Book section. Currently on Figment, according to Ulin, is a mix that includes the first chapter of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” as well as Rachel Hawkins’ third “Hex Hall” novel, “Spell Bound.”  “You’re as likely to find a reference to Tom Waits or William S. Burroughs as to ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘The Hunger Games,' ” Ulin writes.  “Its success, then, simply reaffirms what readers everywhere have always known: that literature and reading aren’t going anywhere.” The site’s founders, Lewis and New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear, will be honored on April 20 at the L.A. Times Book Prizes with the Innovator’s Award. 

The decidedly old platform is letter-writing, and this Sunday we look at 450 examples of Charles Dickens' masterful epistolary prose that have been gathered for “The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens,” edited by Jenny Hartley. Our reviewer novelist Nicholas Delbanco notes that “By the time he died, at 58, he was world-famous and besieged with mail; he answered correspondence promptly and received by his own attestation 'three or four score letters every day.' ”  That’s a lot of mail to keep up with. No wonder he died at 58. Think not? Try sitting down and writing a letter — snail mail, that is — to your Aunt Bruce in Cincinnati.  One of our favorite examples from Dickens, which Delbanco notes with pleasure, is this snippet he wrote, when 21, to Maria Beadnell, who had rejected his advances: “I have often said before and I say again I have borne more from you than I do believe any creature breathing ever bore from a woman before.”

More after the jump

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The hit machine behind 'The Hunger Games' books

Before Suzanne Collins book "The Hunger Games" became a highly anticipated movie, it was just a manuscript in her publisher's office. How did it get from there to here?
The highly anticipated film "The Hunger Games" opens Friday. The movie, which stars Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, is an adaptation of the first book in a young-adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Although the young-adult dystopia "The Hunger Games," is a gripping thriller, there was no guarantee the book would hit bestseller lists and stay there. It doesn't have vampires; instead, it centers around a televised fight to the death. At Salon, Laura Miller takes a careful look at what made Collins' books a success in the first place.

With the right title, a kid's publisher can deploy something the world of adult publishing can only dream about: a large, well-oiled and highly networked group of professional and semi-professional taste makers who can make that book a hit even before it's published. This is what happened with "The Hunger Games," which landed on the New York Times Bestseller List — there are separate ones for kids' books — the week it was released. ...

[Scholastic Books, Collins' publisher] employees began eagerly passing the manuscript around the office. It was the first stirring of what would become a tidal wave of word of mouth. "When you have the kind of book," said Rachel Coun, executive director of marketing, "where assistants from other departments, even though it’s not their job, come asking for the galleys because they’ve heard it’s really great, you know you have something." "We made a lot of copies," said [Scholastic’s executive editorial director, David Levithan]. "Coming out of the fall sales conference, everyone knew that the best way to generate excitement about 'The Hunger Games' was to get people to read 'The Hunger Games.'" That isn’t as easy as it sounds; over 20,000 new children's books are published annually, and the people Scholastic needed to reach -- people outside the company -- are drowning in the piles of books arriving from hopeful publishers. ...

Scholastic sales reps were given a limited number of manuscripts to distribute to their list of "Big Mouths," children’s publishing lingo for booksellers who have exceptional influence with co-workers and peers. These people run regional associations, organize book fairs and set up school events. Teachers and librarians come to them for hot tips on new kids' titles.

Carol Chittenden, a classic Big Mouth, is a co-owner of Eight Cousins bookstore in Falmouth, Mass. and founded the New England Children's Booksellers Advisory Council, which (among other things) maintains a website where members can swap opinions on forthcoming titles. Her cozy children's bookstore in a small Cape Cod town may seem a long way from Hollywood, but people like Chittenden -- who's been selling kids' books for 22 years and who instantly recognized "The Hunger Games" as "major" -- are the wellsprings of word of mouth, a sort of viral ground zero where phenomena like Hunger Games fandom are born.

There's a lot more in this valuable look inside the workings of the publishing industry.

As you're preparing for Friday's release of "The Hunger Games," Don't miss Susan Carpenter's exploration of the movie's merchandise: nail polish, socks, earbuds and crossbows.


"The Hunger Games" premiere

Book review: Suzanne Collins' "Mockingjay"

"The Hunger Games" finds its Katniss in Jennifer Lawrence. Is she the right choice?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Lionsgate

This Sunday: John Leonard, AIDS and Carl Hiaasen, too

He was once the literary editor of the Nation and editor of the New York Times Book Review, but John Leonard was perhaps the most important literary critic in the last half of the 20th century. Our book critic David L. Ulin examines Leonard’s collected work “Reading for My Life: Writings, 1958-2008” and finds that Leonard articulated “a worldview through his criticism, to refract his reading through a wider lens.” Ulin also notes that Leonard was “widely credited with bringing such writers as Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Maxine Hong Kingston to the attention of an American readership…”

Ulin also describes his passionate commitment to writing in a passage in which Leonard describes the death threat, the fatwa, against Salman Rushdie. “It has been a disgraceful week. A maniac puts out a $5.2-million contract on one of the best writers in the English language, and how does the civilized world respond? France and Germany won’t publish 'The Satanic Verses'; Canada won’t sell it … and a brave new philistinism struts its stuff all over Mediapolis USA, telling us that Rushdie’s unreadable anyway.”

Strong stuff from a firm believer in a writer’s right to write. Ulin’s review leads our coverage in Sunday Arts & Books.

About 180 degrees away from Leonard’s work is the latest young-adult offering from Carl Hiaasen. The title is “Chomp” and the story is a sendup of reality television. In this story's case, the show is “Expedition Survival,” and its star is Derek Badger, a former Irish folk dancer, who can swallow a live salamander without actually vomiting. And while he may not throw up, he has other attributes that are a bit troublesome in a reality setting populated by cumbersome critters. He’s a klutz. And that’s how the story develops. Carpenter calls this “delightful” and “laugh out-loud” funny.

Also this week, Thomas H. Maugh, a former staffer who made science and medicine issues easily understandable for decades, turns his hand to  “Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It,” a history of the pandemic by journalist Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin, a medical anthropologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health’s AIDS Prevention Research Project. Repeated analyses have shown, the authors argue, that AIDS became epidemic only in regions where the number of each person’s sexual activity was high. The authors' views on controlling the spread of the disease suggest that “the best solution is a change in sexual mores.” They cite the example of Uganda, where the biggest inroads against the disease were made in the 1980s and 1990s. Leaders in that country used a potent weapon: fear.

 “Thinking the Twentieth Century” is a fearless exploration of ideas from a great public intellectual, Tony Judt, while he lay dying of Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). This is Judt’s swan song, and he's joined by Timothy Snyder, a Yale history professor. Our reviewer, Martin Rubin, writes that Judt’s focus is on Europe and takes the reader “on a wild ride through the ideological currents and shoals of 20th century thought.”

More after the jump

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Mad for 'Hunger Games' merch: nail polish, socks, crossbows


Danielle Pepers is such a fan of “The Hunger Games” that she had the book’s unofficial mascot -- a mockingjay -- tattooed on her right arm earlier this month. But her intrigue with the books, and upcoming movie, didn’t stop there. On a recent Wednesday, Pepers, 27, was shopping for T-shirts and jewelry at Hot Topic, a teen-oriented chain store at the Glendale Galleria that sells pop-culture ephemera. A mound of movie tie-in merchandise greeted her at the door.

There were knee socks, pillow cases and nail polish. Mini figures, sweat bands, even a watch. Still, that wasn’t all. Stepping over to the digital kiosk, there were dozens of other “The Hunger Games” items – 60 in total -- that could be special ordered into the store, including an $80 crossbow and ear buds for $19.50.

With “The Hunger Games” set to hit movie theaters next week, the publisher of the books it’s based upon is releasing four movie tie-in titles, including an illustrated movie companion, a tribute guide and, on March 23, the day of the film’s release, “The World of the Hunger Games,” a visual dictionary featuring pictures from the film. Other publishers are also hoping to cash in, with unofficial guidebooks, cookbooks and parodies, including Harvard Lampoon’s “The Hunger Pains.” It’s Lionsgate, however, that has unloosed the floodgates on a tidal wave of licensed merchandise –- most of it sold at Hot Topic and made by the National Entertainment Collectibles Assn. in New Jersey, one of the country’s largest providers of wholesale licensed movie merchandise.

Earlier this month the Los Angeles nail polish company, China Glaze, began selling Electrify (in orange glitter), Stone Cold (in metallic flake) and 10 other colors inspired by “The Hunger Games” 12 districts, where the action of the book unfolds.  Licensed through Lionsgate and available at Hot Topic and Sally Beauty, sales “have already exceeded our normal collection standards,” said China Glaze brand manager Rachel Schafer.

Huge as “The Hunger Games” is even before the film’s release, nothing says success like a Barbie. Mattel recently announced plans to introduce a collectible Katniss Everdeen doll to its Barbie Collector series before the end of the year.

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On Sunday: Luis J. Rodriguez's memory bank, and Dwight Eisenhower too

Luis J. Rodriguez talks about the process of memoir in the Los Angeles Times Arts & Books section
Luis J. Rodriguez has a vast and interesting resume: former gang-banger, literary icon of Chicano letters and now, as Times staff writer Reed Johnson notes in his interview with him, "distinguished-looking 57-year-old grandfather with a silvery goatee and a companionable paunch." But that's not all he has: He has memories, and they are the stuff of two books -- cautionary tales to a new generation of youths. Though his books often name names, he heaps the toughest criticism on himself for the life he lived before he knew a better life. His latest memoir, "It Calls You Back," was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in the autobiography category. His story leads our coverage in Sunday's Arts & Books section.

At the other end of the spectrum is "Eisenhower In War and Peace," the massive biography of the key World War II general and two-term president by Jean Edward Smith. His book, writes reviewer Wendy Smith (no relation), is critical of Eisenhower as a war strategist but is also a "measured but fundamentally admiring account" of his long years of public service. In the end, our reviewer writes, "Eisenhower proved himself to be precisely the kind of leader America wanted and needed at the time."

Time is at the essence of Susan Carpenter's review of the hot new YA talent Lissa Price and her novel "Starters. Another foray into a dystopian world, this telling, by debut author Price, is about a genocide that kills everyone between the ages of 20 and 60, leaving only the very young and the very old. And the very old with means are able to rent the bodies of nubile teens and control them through a neurochip. You can imagine the consequences (or not). Carpenter calls this "dystopian sci-fi at its best."

"At its most challenging" may be the best words to describe the new novel by Hari Kunzru, "Gods Without Men," which our book critic David Ulin reviews this week. In this work involving several overlapping stories taking place across decades and centuries, the desert becomes a magnet for many hoping to piece together a fallen world. And the central dilemma of each is understanding what we can and cannot know.

More after the jump ...

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This Sunday: Spring books preview, Anne Lamott and jazz

Spring-arts-previewSpring may be more than two weeks away, but we are getting a jump on the season this Sunday with the Arts & Books section’s “Spring Arts Preview.”

Carolyn Kellogg offers a listing of the leading book events in Southern California coming up in the next three months. That list includes Jonathan Lethem, Joan Didion, Rachel Maddow with Bill Maher, John Irving and The Times' very own Book Prize ceremony and Festival of Books, April 20-22 at USC. In a separate story, Kellogg also previews some highly anticipated books coming in the spring: Think Toni Morrison, Richard Ford, Anne Tyler, Jonathan Franzen and Robert Caro.

Book critic David Ulin talks to Anne Lamott about her latest memoir, which is a logical sequel to her extremely popular parenting journal "Operating Instructions." Her new book, “Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son,” connects the dots with her earlier work and moves it forward with Lamott’s new perspective as a grandmother.

Another anticipated book for the spring is “Half-Blood Blues,” Esi Edugyan’s jazz novel that was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2011 and has been released in her native Canada and finally here. Our reviewer, staff writer Chris Barton (who provides most of the jazz coverage for The Times), writes that Edugyan’s book is pitch perfect in its depiction of musicians looking for the authentic life.

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This Sunday: Mark Salzman, Geoff Dyer, Stephen Fry and more


Writer's block: It is the bane of anyone who makes a living putting words together. There you are, poised in front of a computer, and nothing comes and nothing comes and nothing comes. Mark Salzman felt that in the spring of 2009 when he was overdue to deliver a novel to his publisher. The project wasn’t going well: Then, with the sudden death of his sister, full-fledged panic set in. How he got through this ordeal and returned to work is the focus of David L. Ulin’s conversation with Salzman, who has published an e-book memoir on the subject.  Ulin's is the lead piece in our Sunday Arts & Books section.

Also Sunday is Geoff Dyer’s latest work, “Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room," reviewed by Chris Barton. In "Zona," Dyer attempts to summarize Andrei Tarkavsky’s 1979 film “Stalker” from its opening sequence to the end. The Russian art film is probably little known to American audiences and Barton writes “that undertaking an expansive, linear summation of a Russian art film, scene by scene by scene, flirts with madness.” But, Barton adds, “testifying to the greatness of an underappreciated work of art is the core purpose of criticism, and Dyer has delivered a loving example that is executed with as much care and craft as he finds in his subject.”

British humorist Stephen Fry, writes Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty, “would like you to know that he picks his nose and pees in the shower. He also can’t stand the sight of his naked body.” And that’s just for starters. His self-deprecating wit and humor enliven his new memoir of his school days and beyond when his pals were Hugh Laurie (“House”), Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane, among others. His book is "The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography."

Carolyn Kellogg calls Ellen Ullman’s novel “By Blood” “a literary inquiry into identity and legacy" that is "a gripping mystery — remarkable, considering that little more happens than a man eavesdrops on  a woman’s therapy sessions.”  Kellogg notes that “Ullman is a careful stylist” and that "the storytelling here is compelling and propulsive.”

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