Monday, March 19, 2007


Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds, by April Lurie (Delacorte, June 12, 2007)(ages 10-14) is a terrific sophomore novel by the author of Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn: April Lundquist lives in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, a quiet neighborhood where the streets are clean and safe. Sure, three murderers live on her block, but they're just mafia hit men. Problems start when April's older brother begins to date the daughter of a mobster and when one of the neighbors has a business proposition...

In this novel set in the late 1970s, author April Lurie evokes the classic feeling of the decade of disco in a humorous and touching story based in part on her own teen years. Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds is a fun and affecting tale of family and friendship and (like Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn) would likely appeal particularly to fans of Jennifer Holm's Penny from Heaven.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo in Japan

So yesterday I received my author's copies of the Japanese edition of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, published by Poplar Sha. I love the look Shohei's giving Elias. :-). Thanks to translators Noriko and Koshi Odashima!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Muffin Joke - Is it funny?

So there are these two muffins baking in an oven.

One of them yells, “Wow, it’s hot in here!”

And the other muffin replies: “Holy sh*t! A talking muffin!”

I think it's pretty darn hilarious.

Tuesday's New York Times, however, has an article discussing laughter and the muffin joke, which the author, a Mr. John Tierney, rather haughtily disparages as NOT funny and states that "most laughter has little to do with humor," but is merely a social lubricant.

Occasionally we’re surprised into laughing at something funny, but most laughter has little to do with humor. It’s an instinctual survival tool for social animals, not an intellectual response to wit. It’s not about getting the joke. It’s about getting along.

Thus, the article contends that the only reason anyone could laugh at or find the muffin joke to be funny is for purposes of "getting along" and that laughter arises or is particularly useful in social situations involving a disparate power dynamic, i.e., it occurs more typically in a situation in which social inferiors are responding to social superiors, rather than between colleagues.

As evidence of the assertion that laughter is just a social lubricant, and not a response to humor, the article states that when the speaker ("a lowly graduate student") was telling the muffin joke to his undergraduate class, the response was laughter, but when talking to a conference of (more prominent) neuroscientists, he got nothing.

Well, okay. But has anyone, in the entire history of the human race, ever said, "Oh boy! A conference of neuroscientists! That'll be a barrel of laughs!"

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Good news, launches, and congrats!

Austin author Varian Johnson just celebrated his 30th birthday and was recently accepted into the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Read his full post and send him congrats!

Author David Lubar (not a Texan, but we don't hold it against him) had a book launch this week: True Talents, the sequel to Hidden Talents. Go here for my December review.

Author Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (likewise not a Texan) also had a book release this week: Check out Reaching for the Sun, which is already garnering terrific reviews!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tantalize a Border's Original Voices Pick!

Cynthia's new novel, Tantalize, has been named a Border's Original Voices Pick for March 2007. Go check out the other picks!

Also, Candlewick Press and Young Adult Books Central are sponsoring a giveaway contest for March - enter and win one of twenty copies of Tantalize!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Speaking of dirty words...

(This is a great segue if you've read my last post).

By now, everyone is familiar with this tempest in a teapot.

It got me thinking. My WIP is my first novel set in Texas (“It’s about time,” said a librarian at Cyn’s Tantalize launch party) – actually, on a cattle ranch – and it’s about a girl who must decide who and what she is, based on where she thinks she’s from, where she thought she was from, and where she’s actually from. It’s hilarious. Really.

Anyway. One of the things that goes on on a cattle ranch in the spring is an activity with the relatively innocuous-sounding title of "roundup." During roundup, the young bull calves are, well, rounded up, thrown to the ground, branded, and castrated.


Two words:

Calf fries.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

How Bleak Thou Art

Okay, so there’s this generalized assumption that young adult literature is bleak, grim, and seriously unfunny. Now, as an author of funny YA (well, published in 10-14 YA, though my WIP YA is older), and as someone who likes to read funny books, I’ve never had much of a problem finding funny YA books to read. I do tend to agree, however, that the “serious” books vastly outnumber the “funny” ones.

But, I’m an empirical kind of guy, so I decided to examine my assumption in more detail. In particular, I looked at a recent catalog for a major publisher, reading through the catalog copy of the twenty-four (24) YA novels and attempting to distill each book down to its essence.

This is what I found:

A book on paralysis
A book on death of a parent, alcoholism, and unwanted pregnancy.
A book on death of a parent through cancer
A book on alcoholism
A book on armed assault with a deadly weapon
A book on death of both parents in a car crash
A book on death of both parents in a car crash and an unwanted pregnancy
A book whose catalog copy is vague, but appears to involve at least armed robbery and child abandonment
An historical book on suicide
A contemporary book on suicide
A book on death of a parent and economic hardship
A book on censorship. And sex.
A book on death by accidental shooting (or general stupidity)
A book on child abandonment, alcoholism, and an accident of indeterminate nature (resulting in, possibly, death)
A book on divorce
A book on death of a parent, economic hardship, robbery, and risking death.
Two books on (1960s) sex, drugs, and rock & roll (and therefore, at least metaphorically, death)

Of these, only one (1) appears to include any modicum of humor at all. (How do I know this? Because the catalog copy said it was “hilarious.”).

For the record, of the remaining books, one was high fantasy, two appear to be (profoundly serious) love stories, one was a manufactured book, and for two, the catalog copy was so vague I couldn’t tell what they were actually about.

Now, in one sense, I’m being unfair. I have, after all, grossly simplified “what the book is about” based on catalog copy - I could similarly characterize Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo as “a book on science and student court and racial perceptions,” which sounds like a real snoozer, rather than “a romantic science comedy courtroom drama about three friends who take part in their school science fair and end up in student court because of it.”

Further, IMO, a funny book should deal with serious themes and should have all the characteristics of a serious book. A strong beginning, rising action, characters who change and grow, etc. As Lisa Yee put it in her interview on Three Silly Chicks, “[t]he best way to write a funny book is to write an unfunny book first. By that I mean, the story has to hold up without the humor. There needs to be emotion and pathos in it…To test this, take out your best jokes or funniest parts. Does the story still hold up?”

Now, it's also entirely possible that, some of these apparently serious books could have some humor in them, even if they are not funny books with serious themes (And, yeah, only one sample and an anecdote isn't data).


But, I was still struck by the fact that, with this one publisher (at least in this one catalog), "funny" seems to be a dirty word.
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