Is YA fiction too dark?

By Midge Raymond,

We read with interest this Wall St. Journal article on young adult (YA) fiction about how (distressingly, for many parents) today’s YA fiction seems to be getting darker and darker. According to the selection in many bookstores, today’s avidly reading teens can find themselves “immersed in ugliness.”

The part of the article that stands out most to me is this: “Reading about homicide doesn’t turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won’t make a kid break the honor code. But the calculus that many parents make is less crude than that: It has to do with a child’s happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart.”

We think about this a lot for every Ashland Creek Press title we publish: How will this book both entertain and enlighten? Will this book  offer something positive in an all-too-often troubling world? Will this book inspire readers to engage with the world in which they live in an optimistic way? This is more important than ever with young adult books.

Our first YA title, Out of Breath, belongs to a genre that teens have been devouring lately. There’s a little romance, a lot of paranormal, and yes, you’ll meet a couple of vampires. It’s certainly not as dark as some teen fiction out there — there’s no serious violence, no profanity, no sex, and no child abuse, self-inflicted or otherwise. And what we hope will surprise readers about this novel is that even amid the darker elements of the story, the book celebrates the earth and nature and shows how we can all connect to it a little more closely.

It’s good to see this article and to know that the tide may be turning — not that we need to create unrealistic, utopian worlds for teen readers but because, as the article notes, “books focusing on pathologies help normalize them.” And it’s not that we should ignore the realities of what teenagers experience — but literature can be one of many ways in which to show them that there is as much light in the world as there is dark.

How writers write

By Midge Raymond,

I recently revisited this Wall St. Journal article about writers sharing their processes — and I found it just as inspiring as when I first encountered it. It’s a great article only for the insider’s view into some of our favorite writers’ practices but for the comfort of knowing that there’s no “right way” to do things, and that the work can sometimes be a struggle for even the most successful writers.

Take Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, who “shuts himself in the bathroom and perches on the edge of the tub with his notebook when he’s tackling a knotty passage” — or Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, who “often rewrites the first line of his novels 50 or 100 times.”

And then there’s British novelist Hilary Mantel, who writes in the morning, before before having even a sip of coffee (can you imagine?!). Russell Banks writes his novels in longhand, while Anne Rice writes on a computer in 14-point Courier.

Dan Chaon writes on color-coded note cards. Laura Lippman creates her mysteries using plot charts, index cards, sketchbook pages, colored ribbon, magic markers — and Edwidge Danticat begins her novels with collages of photos and images clipped from magazines.

And, like the rest of us, these writers don’t work without false starts. Kate Christensen was two years and 150 pages into her first novel before she started over; Junot Diaz tossed out about 600 pages before The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao finally began to come together.

What about when they’re not writing? Mantel always carries a notebook to jot down ideas, while Margaret Atwood scribbles “on napkins, restaurant menus, in the margins of newspapers.”

Sometimes when I read about writers and their rituals, I can’t help but feel as though I’m doing something wrong. For example, my schedule is such that I have no daily set writing time; I take it when I can get it. I wouldn’t dream of committing words to paper in a pre-coffee state (I need some tea, at the very least). And sometimes I write on the computer, sometimes longhand, sometimes in my head. It just depends: on time and timing, on where I am and when, and the story and how it wants to arrive in the world.

This is why I love articles like this one, showing us all the myriad ways in which writers work — they’re good reminders that what matters is not how the writing gets done but the fact that it does.

Meet the Monkey Puzzle Tree: Ashland Tree of the Year 1990

By John Yunker,

When I first heard of a tree called the Monkey Puzzle, I went straight to Wikipedia.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that this tree is native to western Argentina and central and southern Chile (and is the national tree of Chile). It’s a very old species of tree, referred to as a “living fossil.” And its scientific name is Araucaria araucana, which means I’ll be sticking with calling it the Monkey Puzzle.

As you can see, this is a challenging tree to photograph It is located on a steep hill and I found that whenever I visited I was always shooting into a bright sky. It didn’t help much that I have no idea how to adjust the light settings on my camera. But you’ll have to trust me when I say the branches are green.

When I zoom in you can get a better sense for its branches — and it quickly becomes apparent how this tree earned its nickname.

You can find the Monkey Puzzle on this Google Map I’ve assembled.

  Category: Ashland news
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Amazon now sells more ebooks than print books

By John Yunker,

Amazon announced today that for every 100 print books it sells, it now sells 105 ebooks.

In other words, the ebook “train” has left the station. There is no going back.

As someone with a few thousand old-fashioned print books lining the walls of his house, the success of ebooks is bittersweet. The paperbacks sitting on my bookshelf are not just books but souvenirs; they remind me of where I was when I bought those books, what I was thinking (or not thinking), where I was living. The books themselves are bookmarks of my life.

On a Kindle, a book is, well, largely just a book. But perhaps it is I who is old-fashioned and not the books themselves.

That said, I love ebooks and the opportunities they provide. Ebooks (and Amazon) have provided upstart authors and publishers with amazing opportunities. There has been a changing of the guard among the former gatekeepers.

As publishers, we view ebooks as equally as important as print books. Our goal is simply to get the author’s work into as many bookstores and reading devices as possible. If you have a Kindle, a Nook, a Kobo, an iPad — we’ll be there. If you’re a library, we can be there in either print or digital format. And if you’re a bookstore, we’ll be there in all our paper glory, for those readers who, like us, want books as well as mementoes.


  Category: On Amazon, On publishing
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Ashland’s First Tree of the Year

By John Yunker,

A few weeks ago I profiled a Monterey Cypress from another part of Ashland.

But I neglected to highlight this Monterey Cypress, which was actually the very first “Ashland Tree of the Year.”

If you’re headed into Ashland from the north, traveling along Main Street, you’ll see this tree on your right on the front lawn of an elementary school.

A fine introduction to Ashland I would say.

PS: Going forward, I’m going to add these trees to a custom Google Map so they’re easy to find.